Syria: Reflections on the collapse of solidarity

July 15, 2017 at 11:17 am (apologists and collaborators, democracy, fascism, Human rights, internationalism, liberation, Middle East, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", solidarity, stalinism, Syria)

Assad electionAnderson claimed that Bashar Assad -who inherited his throne from his father – had been voted to power in an “election.”

By Michael Karadjis (at Syrian Revolution Commentary and Analysis)

On the evening of June 29, I went up against Dr. Tim Anderson, Australia’s most well-known and prolific propagandist for the murderous Syrian dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, at the Gaelic Club’s Politics of the Pub evening. A packed house, and, as might be expected at a drinking gathering, stormy enough, the evening highlighted the severity of the challenge of reconstructing a viable, credible, emancipatory political left able to confront today’s neo-liberal capitalist disaster.

Some may well say the issue is “only Syria” and we shouldn’t generalize about the bad politics that some people have on only one issue. That is a valid enough point. Nevertheless, confronted with close to the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of our era – not just “any issue” – a dogged section of the western left has thrown overboard the politics of elementary human solidarity, without which, the bigger task I outlined above would appear to be a very long way away.

As usual, I had too much to say and didn’t get round to making a number of important points, particularly about the role of US imperialism, though I did get to it a little at the end, and in discussion. Some might say that is the most important issue, but given that the US has had very little to do with the dynamics of the Syrian revolution and counterrevolution, it quite simply is not – therefore I believe I was correct to focus more on the actual dynamics of what is going on in Syria rather than abstract geopolitical schemas and prejudices beloved by many western “analysts” who often couldn’t care less about what happens to real people.

Yassin al-Haj Saleh: Syria’s “internal First World” v the “black Syrians”

Before going on, I will first produce the lines I opened with, quoting Syrian Communist dissident Yassin al-Haj Saleh (who spent 16 years in Assadist torture chambers for holding an opinion), because he so eloquently sums up the political method I support on this issue:

“That Syrians have been subject to extreme Palestinization by a brutal, internal Israel, and that they are susceptible to political and physical annihilation, just like Palestinians, in fact lies outside the clueless, tasteless geopolitical approach of those detached anti-imperialists, who ignorantly bracket off politics, economics, culture, the social reality of the masses and the actual history of Syria.”

“This way of linking our conflict to one major global struggle, which is supposedly the only real one in the world, denies the autonomy of any other social and political struggle taking place in the world.

“The anti-imperialist comrade is with the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt for the same reason that led him to “resist” alongside the Syrian regime. Whether in Tunisia, Egypt, or Syria, people are invisible, and their lives do not matter. We remain marginal to some other issue, the only one that matters: the struggle against imperialism (a struggle that, ironically, is also not being fought by these anti-imperialists, as I will argue below).

“The response to this discourse need not be to point out the truth, that the Assadist state is not against imperialism in any way whatsoever. First and foremost, the autonomy of our social and political struggles for democracy and social justice must be highlighted and separated out from this grand, abstract scheme.

“A better starting point would be to look at actual conflicts and actual relationships between conflicting parties. This could involve, for example, thinking about how the structure of a globally dominating Western first world has been re-enacted in our own countries, including Syria. We have an “internal first world” that is the Assadist political and economic elites, and a vulnerable internal third world, which the state is free to discipline, humiliate, and exterminate. The relationship between the first world of Assad and the third world of “black Syrians” perfectly explains Syria’s Palestinization.

Only then would it be meaningful to state that there is nothing within the Assadist state that is truly anti-imperialist, even if we define imperialism as an essence nestled in the West. Nor is there anything popular, liberatory, nationalist, or third-worldly in the Syrian regime. There is only a fascist dynastic rule, whose history, which goes back to the 1970s, can be summed up as the formation of an obscenely wealthy and atrociously brutal neo-bourgeoisie, which has proved itself ready to destroy the country in order to remain in power forever.”

Support Assad?? Why not Pol Pot, the Taliban or ISIS?

As I then explained, this is what the Syrian revolution is about: the struggle against this “obscenely wealthy and atrociously brutal neo-bourgeoisie, which has reacted by destroying its country to remain in power forever.” By contrast, this ivory-tower anti-imperialism, which supports this monstrously repressive dictatorship as it bombs its entire to country to bits for six years, is the same kind that would support Pol Pot, or ISIS, or the Taliban, on the basis of alleged “anti-imperialism,” regardless of what they do to their own peoples. Read the rest of this entry »

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Labour should defend the single market – and free movement

July 13, 2017 at 7:57 pm (Anti-Racism, capitulation, Europe, immigration, internationalism, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, stalinism)

Anna Soubry David Cameron Meets Ministers To Discuss Steel Crisis
Anna Soubry: to the left of Corbyn on this (Getty Images)

By Sacha Ismail (of Workers Liberty):

As the UK-EU negotiations on Brexit begin, the political landscape in Britain is in flux. The general election result was widely interpreted as a riposte to the Tories’ push for a hard Brexit. Now senior Tory critics of a hard Brexit, and indeed of Brexit per se, are becoming bolder.

Some, for instance Broxtowe MP Anna Soubry, even advocate the maintenance of free movement from the EU. More senior Tories have hinted at that too. Meanwhile polls suggest public opinion is shifting. A new YouGov/Times poll says that 58 per cent of people believe that trading with the EU is a higher priority than controlling EU immigration. More voters now believe Britain was wrong to vote to leave than right: 45 to 44%. A Survation poll found that 55% favoured a “soft Brexit” with the UK remaining in the EU single market and customs union, while only 35% favoured a “hard Brexit”. Survation found that 48% favour a referendum on the final Brexit deal, while only 43% are opposed!

All this is despite a lack of leadership from the Labour Party. Labour generally criticises the Tories from the left, i.e. from a more anti-Brexit position. It has rightly denounced the government’s concessions on the right of EU citizens to stay in Britain as “too little” — because as the campaign Another Europe is Possible and numerous migrants’ rights groups have explained, the offer is hedged round with all kinds of very bad limits. It’s “too late” because it should have been done a year ago, when Labour proposed it. More generally, however, Labour’s position is as clear as mud. With one, decisive exception: senior Labour spokespeople are very clear that they support an end to free movement from the EU. In other words, the position they have tied themselves to is to the right of that taken by Anna Soubry.

Labour’s stance has no doubt been given encouragement by the Stalinist-origin types in Corbyn’s office who think that leaving the EU is a win for “fighting the monopolies” or whatever. But its origin is with the Labour right. As late as November 2016, Corbyn told the Sunday Mirror that Labour would vote in Parliament against triggering “Article 50” unless the government agreed to a “Brexit bottom line” that included staying in the single market — and thus accepting continued free movement. Then Tom Watson, who combines right-wing, Stalinist and pseudo pro-working class strands in his politics, intervened to say that Labour would put down amendments but vote for Article 50 regardless. Corbyn eventually deferred to Watson.

Corbyn did not publicly endorse ending free movement until well into 2017, and then he did it in such an unclear way it looked very much like he was unhappy about it. Yet that then became Labour’s policy in the election. The leaders of the organised Labour left played a poor and even harmful role here. During the many months before and even after the referendum when Corbyn was holding the line on free movement, Momentum never once stated its support for this principle, let alone campaign to back Corbyn up. This was despite Momentum committees repeatedly taking a stand in favour of free movement, most recently in December 2016, when a motion on it passed with only a few votes against. Not long after the 23 June referendum, Momentum leader Jon Lansman made it clear that he favoured the left advocating an end to free movement.

Did he stay quiet on the Momentum National Committee because he thought that position would lead to a breach with his allies, many of them young and enthusiastic about migrants’ rights? Whatever the backroom manoeuvring was, Momentum never carried its democratic mandate on this, even while that was in line with Corbyn. Labour Party members or their representatives have never been given a chance to vote on this issue. At last year’s Labour Party conference, no motions were submitted advocating an end to free movement – but motions were submitted opposing it, including from the national Young Labour committee and CLPs including Norwich South, Clive Lewis’ constituency. These motions originated with socialist activists on the left of Momentum.

Unfortunately these motions were not prioritised for debate and the Labour right successfully counterposed the issue of refugee rights (which it seemed less keen on during the Blair years!) to having a discussion on free movement. The bulk of Labour members are very likely in favour of defending (and extending) free movement, and certainly vast majority of left-wing activists are. Yet this has not found expression in the hierarchy or public position of the party. Supporters of the hard right Progress group, which is making such a big deal of fighting a hard Brexit, like to say it will be possible to retain close ties to the EU while also limiting immigration. If the labour movement stands up and fights it can shift things further.

It is time to stop the retreat — starting on the left. Labour and trade union activists should unapologetically argue: 1. That leaving the single market will make workers in Britain “poorer and less secure”. We should oppose it. Like it or not, remaining in the single market means accepting free movement of labour from the EU. 2. That, in any case, people coming to Britain is not a problem. The labour movement should reject the right-wing idea that it is, and champion unity of all workers to win better conditions and rights for all.

We need an organised campaign to make these arguments, shift Labour’s position and finally make the labour movement a positive rather than a negative factor in the shifting patterns of the UK-EU negotiations.

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Iranian teachers’ union leader on hunger strike

May 28, 2017 at 5:56 pm (Eric Lee, Human rights, internationalism, Iran, LabourStart, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, workers)

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Eric Lee writes:

The name Esmail Abdi should be familiar to you.  In the past, I’ve asked for your help in demanding that the Iranian government free this leader of the Tehran teachers’ union.  Abdi was sentenced to six years in jail on bogus charges and teachers’ unions around the world, led by the Education International, have been demanding his release.

Now things have suddenly gotten much worse.

On 30 April, Esmail Abdi began a hunger strike to protest the continued, unlawful repression of teachers and human rights defenders and the lack of independence of justice in Iran.

Abdi is kept in harsh detention conditions and denied communication with his family and lawyer.

The hunger strike is taking a toll on his health, putting his life in serious danger.

And the prison authorities have not reacted to any of his demands.

Please take a moment to show your support for this brave trade unionist:

http://www.labourstart.org/go/hungerstrike

And please share this campaign with your friends, family and fellow trade union members.

Thank you!

Eric Lee

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Corbyn on foreign policy: the pros and cons

May 26, 2017 at 7:58 pm (Clive Bradley, Human rights, immigration, imperialism, internationalism, iraq war, labour party, Middle East, posted by JD, Stop The War, Syria, terror, war)


Above: Corbyn’s speech today

This piece was written by Clive before Corbyn’s speech today (26/05/2017) on foreign policy. In this speech, Corbyn – whilst making it clear that the terrorist perpetrators are the ones guilty of the acts they perpetrate – seemed to reiterate the simplisticblow-back” view of foreign policy held by his friends in the pro-Taliban/Putin/Assad Stop The War Coalition. Clive – characteristically – is scrupulously fair to Corbyn: I, personally, think he’s too fair:

The limits of Labour’s multilateralism

By Clive Bradley

There has been some recent media attention on Jeremy Corbyn’s alleged past links to the IRA and the claim that he is a “pacifist” — meaning, he is opposed to any and every kind of military intervention, even around “humanitarian” issues.

Corbyn does have a record of support for the Republican movement in Ireland (that is, not the IRA as such, but the nationalists fighting for a united Ireland), and he was long involved with the Stop the War Coalition, which did indeed oppose — sometimes, in Workers’ Liberty’s view, with terrible arguments — the major military interventions involving Britain since the Iraq war (Libya; Syria); the key forces within it including Corbyn, also opposed intervention in Kosova.

But in both cases, while Corbyn’s own politics are influenced by a left-wing tradition of political “softness” towards noxious movements simply because they are at odds with “the West”, his record is probably more concretely connected to a desire to resolve conflicts through negotiation and diplomacy. (This is true, I think, even of his more controversial statements about, for instance, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement). And this commitment to diplomatic solutions comes top of the Labour manifesto promises on foreign policy. “We will put conflict resolution and human rights at the heart of foreign policy, commit to working through the UN, end support for unilateral aggressive wars of intervention and back effective action to alleviate the refugee crisis,” it states, boldly.

Referring to “ongoing wars across the Middle East, unprecedented numbers of refugees, global terrorism, climate change, the threat of nuclear conflict, a devastating food crisis across East Africa and beyond, an erratic US administration and a more combative government in Russia…” it insists that: “We [must] exhaust diplomatic solutions alongside international, regional and local partners within the framework of international law.”

Though describing the Trump administration as “erratic” seems a bit of an understatement, here Labour is at least prepared to call into question a “special relationship” that previous Labour governments (Blair, obviously, but going back long before that) have embraced. The statement goes on: “When [Trump] chooses to ignore [our shared values] whether by discriminating on the basis of religion or breaking its climate change commitments, we will not be afraid to disagree.”

On one key conflict, Syria, Labour promises to “work tirelessly to end the conflict and get the diplomatic process back on track” — which is implicitly critical of recent military actions. It is unclear what this implies regarding the ongoing, less high-profile Western military involvement in the Syrian conflict. And Corbyn personally does not have the best record on denouncing Syria’s murderous president Assad. But as far as it goes, Labour’s policy is unobjectionable. “Labour is committed to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on a two-state solution — a secure Israel alongside a secure and viable state of Palestine.” This for sure is the only basis upon which peace can be
achieved.

The Party also promises to address other conflicts — it mentions “Kashmir, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.” Indeed on Yemen — where the Tory government has backed a brutal Saudi-led war, Labour demands “a comprehensive, independent, UN-led investigation into alleged violations of [human rights] in Yemen, including air strikes on civilians by the Saudi-led coalition. We will immediately suspend any further arms sales for use in the conflict until that investigation is concluded.” This would be a welcome change indeed in British foreign policy. A more comprehensive look at arms sales in general would have been more welcome still.

Many such conflicts pose sharply perhaps the most vital issue facing Europe and the Western world — the refugee crisis, which is driven by wars and poverty and shows no sign of abating. On this, Labour is vague: “In the first 100 days of government, we will produce a cross-departmental strategy to meet our international obligations on the refugee crisis.” That is an improvement on the Tories’ utterly lamentable record.

The commitment to “conflict resolution”, if it led to anything in practice, would be a part of any meaningful solution to the crisis. But only part. Immigration is at the heart of the political debate. The issue was clearly central in fact to the Brexit vote. It is the issue which, above all others, the Corbyn leadership finds it hardest to challenge mainstream prejudices. On one level this is hardly surprising — given the toxic stream of anti-immigrant propaganda delivered daily by so much of the media (the Daily Mail being an obvious example). If Labour took an unequivocal line supporting free movement it would be savagely attacked in the press — and many of its core voters, those who voted for Brexit and so forth, would prove hard to win over in the short term (certainly before the election).

While Labour this time certainly avoids the idiotic pandering to these prejudices which marked the Miliband campaign in 2015, still it is backtracking from earlier, stronger statements. Labour is, of course, better than May’s Tories. But a general sense of good-will towards immigrants and migrants, and promises to “meet obligations”, do not equal a policy.

And on defence policy, Labour’s current commitments are a very long way to the right of what might be expected from the Corbyn team. Labour will support Trident. More: “Conservative spending cuts have put Britain’s security at risk, shrinking the army to its smallest size since the Napoleonic wars”.

Labour, by contrast, commits “to spending at least two per cent of GDP on defence [to] guarantee that our Armed Forces have the necessary capabilities to fulfil the full range of [their] obligations.” No doubt this reflects compromises with Labour’s pro-NATO right wing.

There is certainly much to support in Labour’s manifesto commitments on foreign policy, but the broad sweep of it is pretty “mainstream” — multilateralist, favouring diplomacy over armed intervention, with some commitments to the rights of immigrants (whether from EU countries or refugees), but nothing hugely specific, and nothing which could be construed as particularly radical. It is, nonetheless, for sure, a step forward in comparison to the Blair years.

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The Brexit threat to science: the Wellcome Trust’s Open Letter

May 1, 2017 at 12:30 pm (Anti-Racism, campaigning, economics, Europe, internationalism, posted by JD, science)

Shiraz Socialist doesn’t necessarily agree with everything in this Open Letter – not least the defeatist acceptance that Brexit is inevitable. Nonetheless, it contains a clear warning  that the isolationism and racism inherent in Brexit is a threat to science, and human progress in general:

Wellcome’s Chair, Eliza Manningham-Buller, and Director, Jeremy Farrar, have written to the leaders of all UK political parties with MPs in Westminster ahead of the upcoming general election on 8 June.

This includes the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, and parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The letter sets out three areas the next government should prioritise to sustain Britain’s role as world leader in science and research, through exit from the EU and beyond:

  • strong investment in research, ideally at the same level as other innovative countries who spend comparably more than the UK
  • a commitment to securing associate membership of EU science schemes such as Horizon 2020, which encourages collaboration across borders
  • a migration system that is straightforward and welcoming to researchers, technicians, innovators, and their families, at all career stages and from all over the world.

Full text of the letter

The government that is elected on June 8 will determine the direction that the UK will take through exit from the European Union and beyond. Among the issues at stake are Britain’s future positioning on the global stage, and its historic role as a world-leading centre for outstanding scientific discovery that transforms life and health.

As the world’s second highest-spending charitable foundation, committed to supporting science and improving health, Wellcome is proud to invest the majority of our £1bn annual spending in the UK. This letter sets out the conditions that we believe are necessary to sustain the scientific excellence that allows us to invest here so confidently, and which advances health and economic prosperity.

Wellcome’s mission has long been enhanced by a shared understanding with UK governments of all political complexions that research and innovation accomplish more when nations and their scientists collaborate across borders. We believe that the next UK government will face an important choice. It can continue this understanding, looking outward as an open nation and committing to global partnerships and institutions. This is critical to taking on fundamental scientific questions, and challenges such as pandemics, drug-resistant infections, climate change and mental health, which no single nation can address alone. Or it can allow the UK’s focus to drift inward, by commission or omission, which would close doors to international collaboration and talent.

The cross-party commitment to spending 0.7% of GDP on Official Development Assistance is a clear expression of this country’s intent to be a constructive international partner. If the next government wishes to sustain Britain’s global posture and scientific excellence it will also have to take the right decisions in three other areas.

First, we know that science and innovation are reliable drivers of economic growth and sustainable employment when the right conditions are in place. These conditions include strong investment, which would be secure if the UK met the international benchmark of spending 3% of GDP on R&D across the public and private sectors. They include the UK’s unique dual system of flexible support through both research grants and wider infrastructure funding, which has given the UK four of the world’s top ten universities, and regulation that promotes innovation, builds public confidence, and facilitates access to wider markets. And they include access to capital that is patient enough to allow small companies founded on scientific ingenuity to grow into large ones.

Next, we know that science thrives when funding incentives encourage collaboration across borders. This makes sharp minds sharper, and drives up standards everywhere. The EU’s Framework Programme funding does this exceptionally well, stimulating excellence and partnership where many schemes with similar intent have failed. It would be a mistake to walk away from a system that the UK has worked so hard to get right over many years, and from which we could continue to receive more funding than we contribute, or to replace it with purely domestic funding that does not promote collaboration as effectively. The next government should commit to securing associate membership of EU science schemes, as it builds on their success to forge similar global partnerships.

Finally, we know that great science is built on great talent – wherever it is from. As the UK’s migration system changes, it must be straightforward and truly welcoming to researchers, technicians, innovators, and their families, at all career stages and from all over the world. We must be open to talent not because there is a shortage of home-grown scientists – but because the arrival of people with new ideas and fresh thinking lifts standards and gets better results. Such openness is entirely compatible with achieving greater control over total migrant numbers. It could be achieved if the next government were to work with the academic institutions and high-tech businesses that it will rely on for growth to design the migration system that can enable this to happen, including sponsoring appropriate candidates for visas.

The world is watching how the UK faces this crucial moment in its history, and the tone and substance of the approach you choose will help determine the UK’s place in the world for generations to come. We urge you to grasp the opportunity for the UK to grow as a constructive, enthusiastic international partner, for science, research and health in Europe and around the world.

Yours sincerely,

Eliza Manningham-Buller
Chair, Wellcome Trust

Jeremy Farrar
Director, Wellcome Trust

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US bombing of Syria did not begin on April 7

April 7, 2017 at 7:49 pm (Human rights, internationalism, Middle East, posted by JD, Syria, terror, Trump, war)

Chemical massacre in Syria

by Michael Karadjis, at Syrian Revolution Commentary and Analysis

US bombing of Syria did not begin on April 7, it began in September 2014, two and a half years ago. Nearly 8000 US air strikes have been launched, thousands of civilians have been killed, including hundreds just in recent weeks in some horrific strikes, like the slaughter of some 57 worshippers in a mosque in western Aleppo – which Trump’s Russian friends defended as aimed at “terrorists” – and the massacre soon after of dozens of displaced people in a school in Raqqa. Not to mention the mass killing of 200 civilians in Mosul in Iraq, just a few of the thousands killed in recent months in the joint US, Iranian and Iraqi regime (ie, the US-Iran joint-venture regime) offensive in that city.

No “anti”-war movement has protested all this US bombing. No “anti”-imperialists have ever cared less about any of this. Because all these years of US bombing have been of opponents of Assad, have often been in direct collaboration with Assad, and have had the tacit support of the Syrian regime.

Then in recent months, under both the late Obama administration and Trump, this US role had become even clearer. From December, the US launched a more intense bombing campaign against Jabhat Fatah al-Sham in Idlib and western Aleppo, thus joining the Assadist and Russian slaughter from the skies in that region. Hundreds of JFS cadre were killed, and the bombings also hit other rebel groups at times. The US role alongside Assad, Russia and Iran in the latest reconquest of Palmyra was widely reported on. Calculating all US bombings in February from the US CentCom site (ie, the site of the US-led Coalition bombing Syria) shows that while 60 percent of US bombings were carried out in alliance with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF, mainly the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, YPG), most of the other 40 percent was in alliance with Assad in Deir Ezzor, Palmyra and Idlib, some 195 strikes of the 548 in total (). And that was in a month when the bombing of Idlib was minimal, compared to January and March. Even in SDF-controlled Manbij, the US landed forces to patrol the region with Russian and Assad troops to block the Turkish-led FSA Euphrates Shield forces from advancing.

Despite countless assertions that Trump’s Syria policy was “unclear,” everything Trump has said was very clear: for many months, he insisted the US must ally with Russia and Assad to “fight ISIS,” as he believed Russia and Assad were doing; and that the US should cut off whatever remaining fragments of “aid” he believed were still going to some vetted Syrian rebels. Even Defence Secretary James Mattis, who many have mistakenly seen as more anti-Assad than Trump, has always opposed “no fly zone” plans and announced several years ago that “the time to support Syrian rebels against both Assad and ISIS is over,” ie, he agreed with the Obama-Kerry line that the US would only support rebels who fought ISIS and Nusra only, not the regime.

Then In the very days just before Assad’s monstrous chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun, three prominent US leaders made Trump’s US policy even clearer, announcing that Assad should be allowed to stay. US UN representative Nikki Haley announced that the US was “no longer” (sic) focused on removing Assad; the Russia-connected US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, used Assad’s very words that it is up to “the Syrian people” whether Assad ruled or not – an obvious statement, of course, if one assumed Syrian people could hold a democratic election under a tyrannical dictatorship; and White House spokesman Sean Spicer talked about how “silly” it would be to not accept the “political reality” of Assad. Of course this had long been unofficial US policy; and had even become partly official under Obama and Kerry when they agreed that Assad could continue to rule in an allegedly “transitional” regime following a political process. But the Trump team made this clear.

Then Assad goes and blows it by throwing sarin in their faces! The interesting issue is why Assad was stupid enough to do this, just days after he received so much explicit US support. Presumably, he was encouraged precisely by all this US verbal and actual military support, and so he decided to test the waters, to see if this meant that even sarin could now be re-normalised. But that just highlights the arrogance of power. The US was giving him everything; Obama’s “red line” against chemical weapons in 2013, and then his withdrawal from action, in the US-Russia-Israel deal that saw Assad’s chemical weapons removed, was saying to Assad you can use everything else except chemical weapons; and thus Assad did use everything else in the four years since, in unbelievable quantities, with complete US indifference, if not support. For Assad to then go and use the very weapons that the deal supposedly removed, and show off that he still has them, was simply impossible for the US to ignore in terms of its “credibility.” Assad was reading the messages correctly from this last week, that US leaders were encouraging him; he just read it wrongly that this could include sarin. Look at Nikki Haley, fuming in the UN; she had to fume, because three days earlier the same Nikki Haley had made the official announcement about Assad being good to continue ruling. Assad should have been more gracious about being kissed like that.

The US thus had no choice but to respond in some way for the sake of its alleged “credibility.” Many are claiming Trump is “taking advantage” of Assad’s action to launch a war, just because he likes war, to show what he is made of, to show that he did what Obama didn’t have the spine to do and so on, or alternatively that the strike aims to cover up Trump’s Russia connections that are under investigation at home, by showing he can stand up to the Russians, and so on. This is all a misunderstanding. Certainly, these may well be useful by-products of “taking action” for Trump. But they do not explain the action at all. No, Trump sent a bunch of missiles against the Assadist military facility responsible for the chemical attack, going against everything he wanted to do, and that his entire team wanted to do, as seen by their declarations in the very days beforehand, because Assad’s use of sarin had put US “credibility” at stake.

That is all from the point of view of US imperialism. But from the point of view of supporters of the Syrian revolution, and of liberation and humanity in general, can I ask in all honesty, what is the big deal? Why are 8000 strikes on opponents of Assad (and not only on ISIS), killing thousands of civilians, not “intervention,” yet when you finally get one strike against the biggest, most heavily armed and most highly dangerous terrorist group in Syria, the one currently occupying Damascus, after it slaughters dozens of children with chemical weapons, only that is considered “intervention,” that is supposedly something more significant, that is something we should protest. Really, what is the difference? Surely, if we oppose all US intervention on principle, then this particular bombing is nothing worse than all the other bombings against Anyone But Assad the last two and a half years; and if the left, on the whole, has not been actively demanding the end of US bombing of Syria – far from it – then surely we can say in as much as the US is already there, at least this particular bombing hit the most appropriate target to date.

Frankly, whoever has not been protesting the US bombing of Syria all along the last two and a half years, and who now suddenly protests this US “intervention” today, cannot in any sense be considered anti-war, or anti-imperialist, but simply an apologist for the Assad genocide-regime. As Joey Husseini wrote, “For those who care, this is 7,899th US airstrikes in Syria since 2014. I don’t remember 7,898 waves of outrage or concern.”

And that is only noting the absence of protest against US bombings before this one. One might rightly criticise my post for focusing on these US crimes, terrible as they are, rather than the truly massive crimes against humanity that have been carried out by the Assadist regime, its airforce and torture chambers, and the Russian imperialist invader that backs it, the crimes that have left at least half a million dead and turned the entire country to rubble, even before this latest horrific atrocity. That is simply because I have been focusing on the issue of the inconsistency of those allegedly “opposing US imperialism,” indicating that this is entirely fake. But from the point of view of humanity, from the perspective of the part of the left that still believes in the politics of liberation, the malignancy of those “anti-imperialists” who only protest bombing now, but who have never protested the Assadist and Russian bombing, or in fact support this genocide, is far worse.

Meanwhile, while launching a singular “punishment” strike may have the potential to escalate beyond its purpose, this seems almost certainly not the intention of any wing of the Trump regime. As State Secretary Rex Tillerson explains, this punishment strike should not be confused with a US change of line on Syria:

“US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the attack showed the President “is willing to take decisive action when called for. ‘I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or posture relative to our military activities in Syria today’, he said. ‘There has been no change in that status. I think it does demonstrate that President Trump is willing to act when governments and actors cross the line and cross the line on violating commitments they’ve made and cross the line in the most heinous of ways’.”

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George Szirtes: The Immigrant at Port Selda

April 2, 2017 at 4:55 pm (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, democracy, Europe, Human rights, identity politics, immigration, internationalism, literature, Migrants, poetry, populism, posted by JD, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism")

Picture by Clarissa Upchurch

George Szirtes was born in Hungary and emigrated to England with his parents—survivors of concentration and labor camps after the 1956 Budapest uprising.

George’s address to the recent symposium at Southampton University, ‘The legacy of Brexit and citizenship in times of uncertainty’  is posted here with his permission:

I must confess I have no qualification for speaking on this subject and am keenly aware of speaking to those who do. I can only speak in my character as an unwitting child refugee to these shores, a poet and translator, and as an occasional writer of articles in the press, on, among other things, the issue of Brexit: about the campaign itself, the impact of the campaign and its likely future impact.

On that last, of course, I can only speculate. We are not out yet, we don’t know anything about the terms of disengagement, and we have no clear idea of how this or that set of terms may impact our lives.

I did in fact campaign for Remain but my role and experience was very minor. In asking Leavers why they intended to vote as they did the two answers I repeatedly got were: ‘So they won’t tell us what to do any more,’ and, ‘Things were better before’. These words will be familiar to most people here and seemed to me to be perfectly rational responses to the two major arguments of the Leave campaign regarding sovereignty and free movement of people. The way those arguments were presented elicited precisely these responses.

As I have already said I am not qualified to address those questions because I am not an expert in any of the relevant areas and because I am, by birth, parti pris on one side of the question, in that I am a foreigner and therefore one of those factors in things somehow being better before my arrival.

I don’t want to caricature the Leave campaign. I don’t want to call those who voted differently from me stupid, or simple, or racist. Life is far more complicated and I did have some intelligent conversations with people who wanted to leave the EU, particularly those on the Chomskyite left of the political spectrum, whose arguments centred on globalisation, capitalism and high finance as expressed, occasionally, in terms of sovereignty.

I don’t want to caricature the Leave campaign but the day after the referendum there was an incident in Norwich, a city that had voted to remain in a region that had voted to leave, in which a small Romanian supermarket was firebombed. Students at the university from which I had retired immediately set up an appeal to raise £500. By the next morning it had raised over £20, 000, so the field was not altogether lost. Despite what we are continually told about the clear will of ‘the people’ there were enough people willing to raise money for a minor indirectly demonised enterprise.

I don’t think demonisation is too harsh a word, in that Leave rhetoric called forth certain demons, or rather that it quite consciously opened the trapdoors where such demons were hiding. It legitimised them. It called forth the firebombers. It called forth those who immediately set upon elderly widows of French and German birth who had lived in the country for decades and taunted them by asking when they were going home. It called forth the teenagers on the Manchester tram who demanded a black American get off it. It called forth the murderer of Jo Cox.

By the time that happened a certain madness had set in. All the Leavers rushed to distance themselves from the murder, of course. This was nothing to do with them. None of those xenophobic incidents, and there have been and continue to be plenty of others, had anything to do with them. It was nothing to do with their presentation of sinister foreigners in Brussels, and sinister gangs of Albanians hanging round Dover and Boston, or with the sinister cheap labour of mushroom pickers and chicken packers who were taking much-coveted jobs from true Brits. No! they protested. That was not what they meant. They had nothing to do with encouraging the taxi driver we met who had moved from Kings Lynn because there were too many Lithuanians and Poles there, foreigners whose rather marvellous supermarket down a side street was, as he put it, ‘taking the place over’.

Perhaps I could go back in time and take a more personal line in order to think about what it is that might make one properly British or, more problematically, a foreigner.

2
My family of four, along with some 200,000 others, that is one-fiftieth of the population, left Hungary in the months following the defeat of the 1956 Revolution. I am not entirely sure why we left. My parents had taken no part in the fighting and were unlikely to be arrested in its repercussions. My father, as the leader of a department within the Ministry of Building, would have been exposed in the revolution itself, as much as a Jew as a member of the apparatus, but I think he would have stayed. It was my mother who insisted we leave.

Why did she do so? I don’t think it was for ideological reasons. Neither my mother nor my father hoped to feel more comfortable among free-market liberal capitalists than in a restored post-Stalinist state. They were both of the left, my middle-class mother further to the left than my working-class father who actually worked in a ministry. Ideology would, if anything, have kept them at home. They lived quite well in the given context and weren’t economic migrants.

The truth is that my mother was afraid, not so much for herself as for us, her children. She had survived two concentration camps, my father had survived forced labour. They had history gnawing at their nerves. Neither of them could have demonstrated that their lives were in immediate danger. Instead they took the dangerous impromptu risk of walking out of the country at night in wholly arbitrary party of a dozen or so, across the Austrian border, arriving there with one suitcase of clothes and nothing more. At that stage I had just three words of English — A A Milne’s AND, BUT, SO as read in my bilingual copy of Now We Are Six. We also had a bilingual edition of Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. In this poem based on the memory of crossing the Hungarian-Austrian border by night, Milne’s characters — the owl and the ass in the hundred-acre wood — serve as forms of familiarity.

My father carries me across a field

My father carries me across a field.

It’s night and there are trenches filled with snow.

Thick mud. We’re careful to remain concealed

From something frightening I don’t yet know.

And then I walk and there is space between

The four of us. We go where we have to go.

Did I dream it all, this ghostly scene,

The hundred-acre wood where the owl blinked

And the ass spoke? Where I am cosy and clean

In bed, but we are floating, our arms linked

Over the landscape? My father moves ahead

Of me, like some strange, almost extinct

Species, and I follow him in dread

Across the field towards my own extinction.

Spirits everywhere are drifting over blasted

Terrain. The winter cold makes no distinction

Between them and us. My father looks round

And smiles then turns away. We have no function

In this place but keep moving, without sound,

Lost figures who leave only a blank page

Behind them, and the dark and frozen ground

They pass across as they might cross a stage.

We might well have been moving into extinction. My parents would never again be what they had been and what they might have become. Once in Austria the process of unbecoming became relatively easy. Refugee services were waiting for us, both in Austria and, a few days later in Britain, after we had been offered a flight there. Reception was efficient and kindly. We were regarded as victim-heroes of a failed but heroic Uprising against the Cold War enemy. Sentiment was with us.

So was our historical baggage. In Metro, the longest poem of my career, there are a couple of verses in which I try to sum up what we had left behind in Budapest. The physical city described in it stands in for history: the empire of the living becomes the empire of the dead.

[Metro 2 2/3]

The empire underground: the tunnelling

Begins. The earth gives up her worms and shards,

Old coins, components, ordnance, bone and glass,

Nails, muscle, hair, flesh, shrivelled bits of string,

Shoe leather, buttons, jewels, instruments.

And out of these come voices, words,

Stenches and scents,

And finally desire, pulled like a tooth.

It’s that or constancy that leads us down

To find a history which feels like truth.

That baggage of old coins, components, bits of lace and so forth is the kind of thing any refugee brings with them. It is an emblem of the real baggage of those who leave without much deliberation or calculation simply because of what appears as a pressing necessity. The children and teenagers in the jungle at Calais carry something similar. They bring their foreignness with them to squat in the mud of an alien port.

England was not our intended destination. That was Australia where my father had a cousin: we had no one in England. But Australia rejected us because of my mother’s health so we had to remain. Altogether some 28,000 Hungarians chose to remain in the UK.

What did we offer our kindly hosts?

My father had some English before we came. The rest of us — my mother, brother and I — had none. The English my father possessed made him useful in helping to process other refugees, which is what he did while we spent four months along with those others in various off-season boarding houses in or near Margate, attending English classes. My father interpreted for fellow refugees who were sent off to jobs in Wolverhampton or Luton or wherever their skill and experience would come in handy. My father’s particular skill lay in plumbing, heating and ventilation at managerial level so they found him a first job in London and, remarkably enough, enabled us to put down a deposit on a first house there. Starting from zero that was nothing short of a miracle, a remarkable act of generosity that was enough to make life-long anglophiles of us all. Meanwhile my mother, a press photographer, found work in a photographer’s studio and shop in Oxford Street.

Having settled in we set about assimilating. First of all we were to speak English, not Hungarian at home. We would never go back, very few people in the world spoke Hungarian so the language would be redundant and only slow down the rate at which we, the children, learned English and made a go of school. Budapest was no longer home. My father anglicised the pronunciation of his name to Surtees, as in the racing driver, even altering the spelling for strictly work purposes when visiting building sites to make life easier for foremen and site managers. His face and accent did not accord with the adopted name of course, and the accent was thick.

But it was a reasonable, relaxed ambience. By the time we began our English school careers there were other immigrant issues to think about. The Notting Hill Riots of 1958 for example and, ten years later, Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech. Then, just four years after that, in the wake of Idi Amin, came the Ugandan Asians. We might have been foreign but at least we were white.

And because we were white and less conspicuous we did not experience the resentment that met West Indians or Asians. We took the mild if diffident benevolence of England for granted. We had melted in hadn’t we? And the country into which we had melted was a stable, powerful force in the world, a safe place, ever less powerful now perhaps, ever less imperial, but still safe.

In 1984 I returned to Hungary for the first time as an adult. And kept returning. In 1989 my family and I spent almost the whole year there watching the state fall apart. Ten years later, after several books I changed publishers for the second time and my work to that date was sorted into two distinct volumes: The Budapest File (2000) dealing with work that had a Hungarian interest (by which time I had written a good deal on that) and one titled An English Apocalypse (2001), that dealt with settling in England and simply being here. In this way my work — and self — was neatly divided for public consumption.

An English Apocalypse was chiefly written in Ireland while I was a fellow at TCD, Dublin, and contained many memories of the seventies but also registered what I sensed was a mounting crisis in English identity and self-confidence. There were five apocalypses at the end of the sequence. This is one of them.

Death by Deluge

I have seen roads come to a full stop in mid-

sentence as if their meaning had fallen off

the world. And this is what happened, what meaning did

that day in August. The North Sea had been rough

and rising and the bells of Dunwich rang

through all of Suffolk. One wipe of its cuff

down cliffs and in they went, leaving birds to hang

puzzled in the air, their nests gone. Enormous

tides ran from Southend to Cromer. They swung

north and south at once, as if with a clear purpose,

thrusting through Lincolnshire, and at a rush

drowning Sleaford, Newark, leaving no house

uncovered. Nothing remained of The Wash

but water. Peterborough, Ely, March, and Cambridge

were followed by Royston, Stevenage, the lush

grass of Shaw’s Corner. Not a single ridge

remained. The Thames Valley filled to the brim

and London Clay swallowed Wapping and Greenwich.

Then west, roaring and boiling. A rapid skim

of Hampshire and Dorset, then the peninsula:

Paignton, Plymouth, Lyme, Land’s End. A slim

line of high hills held out but all was water-colour,

the pure English medium, intended for sky, cloud, and sea.

Less earth than you could shift with a spatula.

Something important began in the seventies that more-or-less coincided with the time of Britain’s EU entry: a process that involved the fuel crisis, the three-day week, the winter of discontent, and the rise of Margaret Thatcher which was followed by the destruction of old mass industries that had sustained stable communities and provided social cohesion. Britain had become the sick man of Europe. And despite an economic recovery through the later eighties and nineties, the cohesion had vanished. The economic body was no longer sick, but the social soul was.

Somebody had to be blamed for all this and the EU was the easiest scapegoat. If Britain was falling apart by 2001 in the way An English Apocalypse suggested that can’t have been Britain’s fault, can it? Who took away our pounds and ounces, our twelve pence to the shilling and our pride? Our image of sinister, faceless foreign bureaucrats — so beloved by the right wing press — conjured our own long resentful demons. The foreigners kept coming. They were after our jobs, after our benefits, after our houses, changing our ways of life, the ground of our very being. These foreigners were not all the result of the EU’s free movement policy, more to do with globalisation beyond Europe, with the disasters of wars or famine, with Britain’s own colonial history.

The concerns associated with large numbers of immigrants were masked by what people — and increasingly the popular press — called ‘political correctness’ (Political Correctness Gone Mad) by which they meant the control of language and manners, and in some cases of law, of the means of even beginning to address the concerns. That was seen as repression and, in some ways, for the best of reasons, so it was.

What I am suggesting is that that which was successfully suppressed after Notting Hill in 1958 was inarticulate and still struggling for manoeuvre in 2016 when it finally found an outlet in the referendum campaign. The end of empire had found its cry. Hence the fury. Hence the demons.

Two or three years ago I was chairing a small literary festival in the small Norfolk town where we live. In order to publicise the event we decided to read poems in the marketplace on market day. That was fun. Somebody there decided to read John Betjeman’s A Subaltern’s Love Song, that begins: ‘Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn / furnished and burnished by Aldershot sun…’, a poem that wonderfully conjures an England of the 1930s. After the event the sweetest and nicest person on the committee said to me, ‘I don’t suppose you will ever fully understand that poem, George’.

Maybe he is right. Maybe, even to the nicest of men, a foreigner can never be truly of the atavistic tribe. That wouldn’t be peculiar to the English, of course: that is, I suspect, a general truth about specific historical moments when tribes come under pressure. Maybe the English tribe is ay such a point and has decided to wash its hand of foreigners. I started out by saying that I am not, for now, directly affected by Brexit and the tide of emotion it has loosed. But the conversation with the genuinely nice man who pointed out that I could never truly understand the heart of Englishness in the Betjeman poem — and he may be right, of course — is a salutary reminder that, in subtle ways, I remain a foreigner. Maybe the door to Brexit is the door out for some of us.

I will finish with a short poem titled Port Selda. There is a much loved popular poem by the Anglo-Welsh poet, Edward Thomas, titled ‘Adlestrop’ In Thomas’s poem of 1917, it is a sunny day during the war when his train makes a brief unscheduled stop at a tiny station, Adlestrop, by an empty platform where no one gets in or out. It seems quiet there until suddenly the poet hears “all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire”. What we know, as readers, is that the poet himself was very soon to die in the war. For many people this poem this represents a sense of England at war, England as the elegiac quiet place sensed as if by accident.

My title, Port Selda is in fact the word Adlestrop spelled backwards. It is about the beauty of the country and the inevitability of rejection. Many of us are at Port Selda now.

The Immigrant at Port Selda

I got off at Port Selda and looked out for the harbour

but it was quiet, nothing smelled of the sea,

all I saw was a station by a well-kept arbour

with a notice pinned to a tree.

It said: Welcome to Port Selda, you who will never be

our collective unconscious nor of our race.

This is the one true genealogical tree

and this the notice you will not deface.

It was beautiful there. It was Friday in late

autumn and all the birds of the county sang

their hearts out. I noted down the date.

The sun was shining and the church-bells rang.

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A last word from Martin McGuinness

March 25, 2017 at 7:24 pm (communalism, Europe, internationalism, Ireland, national liberation, posted by JD, republicanism)

This article first appeared in the New European, 19 August 2016:

Martin McGuinness on why Brexit is an affront to democracy

Martin McGuinness. Photo credit: Sinn Féin via Foter.com / CC BY

Fifty-six per cent of people in the north of Ireland voted to remain in the EU. The late Martin McGuinness, in an article written while he was still Deputy First Minister,  explains why Brexit is an affront to democracy and explores its consequences:

The island of Ireland is facing the biggest constitutional crisis since partition as a result of the Brexit referendum.

The British Government appears determined to usurp the democratic will of the people here by dragging the north of Ireland out of the European Union against our will.

That is an affront to democracy.

Fifty-six per cent of the people in the north of Ireland – unionist, nationalist and republicans – voted to remain in the EU. That mandate should be respected not dismissed.

However, the new British Prime Minister – who I met in recent days – seems determined to ignore that mandate.

And that should be of no surprise to anyone because this toxic debate was never about the desire of the people. It wasn’t even about Brussels bureaucrats or British sovereignty. It was a power play within the Tory party which unleashed and fed upon xenophobia and racism.

The dynamics which led to that schism within the Tory party are still there. They will continue to influence the Tory leadership in the time ahead and we are the collateral damage.

Because there is nothing good in Brexit for Ireland. There are no opportunities. There are no silver linings. Brexit is an economic, political and social catastrophe.

Due to our legacy of conflict and peripheral geography, the north of Ireland is particularly dependent on EU support.

Between 2014 and 2020, we were set to receive 3.5 billion euros in direct European funding. A sizeable portion of that will be at risk if we are forced out of Europe. Such funds will, of course, not be available at all in the years following 2020 and I don’t think that anyone seriously believes that the
British Government will reimburse these losses.

Certainly when I met with Mrs May she offered no guarantees about recompensing the North of Ireland for this loss.

The impact of losing billions from our economy will be a devastating blow in a region which is still emerging from a long and bitter conflict. We still suffer some of the highest levels of deprivation seen anywhere on these islands. We are dealing with the legacy of generations of neglect and under-investment from successive British governments, all of which has been compounded by the austerity agenda of the Tories.

In a society emerging from conflict, we need to be able to demonstrate that politics can deliver for people, that it can bring about positive change and consolidate the peace process. Our ability to do that has been crippled by the Tories and Brexit threatens to make a bad situation incalculably worse.

As well as these direct European funds, we are already losing an unquantifiable amount of private investment as foreign direct investors turn their attention to regions which can guarantee access to the European market.

The European Union has also been central to the peace agreements which have underpinned the incredible progress we have made in the past 20 years.

The role of Europe is written into the Good Friday Agreement. Brexit would directly challenge the integrity of that internationally-binding treaty and represent a major setback for the political process in the North.

It would undermine the all-Ireland bodies and co-operation created by the peace process and harden partition.

It would have huge consequences for human rights legislation which, again, is specifically referenced in the Good Friday and subsequent agreements.

The most tangible aspect of that would be the return of any kind of border on the island of Ireland.

An EU frontier, hard or soft, stretching from Dundalk to Derry is something no one in Ireland wants.

And it’s all very well for Theresa May to say she doesn’t want a return to the borders of the past. But when she was Home Secretary, she was absolutely clear that Brexit would inevitably lead to renewed border checks of some form.

I fear that is exactly what will happen.

And the simple fact is that Theresa May hasn’t ruled a new border out because she can’t rule it out. It’s not within her gift to make that decision because this will be a matter for negotiation with the other EU member states. It will be one of the many prices of Brexit.

And that is the great folly of this entire issue. Brexit may well mean Brexit but nobody – Theresa May included – has any idea of what it will actually look like. It is abundantly clear from the engagements I have had with the highest levels of the Westminster government that they are scrambling in the dark. They have no demonstrable plan to plot a way through this crisis because they didn’t expect this to actually happen.

I personally warned David Cameron nine months ago that he was sleepwalking us all out of the European Union. He clearly didn’t think then that he would lose the referendum but that is precisely what transpired. The British Government recklessly dragged us all into the unknown and they did so for entirely self-serving reasons. It was a foolish attempt to placate UKIP racists and the loony-right within the Conservative Party.

Unfortunately, for us, we will be dealing with the consequences of that decision for generations.

From our perspective, what is needed now is an island-wide approach to dealing with the EU. That is why Sinn Féin called on the Taoiseach to establish an all-Ireland forum to discuss the impact of the referendum. That now needs to go ahead.

The Taoiseach and the Irish government need to play their part in ensuring that the democratic rights of all Irish citizens are protected, regardless of where they live on the island.

Despite the huge challenges Brexit presents, it has also led to a focus on the potential for building a new Ireland.

The people of the north voted to remain in the European Union and we have to explore all options to give effect to that mandate.

A debate has already begun across the country about what a new Ireland within the EU, would look like.

That debate needs to be as wide-ranging as possible, inclusive of the views of a wide range of civic and political opinion from right across Ireland.

The example from Scotland has shown that such a debate can be carried out in a mature, reasonable and sensible manner.

The Tories and the British Government have demonstrated, yet again, that they care little for the needs, entitlements and democratic wishes of the people in the north of Ireland.

I believe the people here see their future as part of Europe. As part of an outward-looking, positive and inclusive new Ireland.

The agenda being pursued by the Tories is contrary to all of that and it is time we had a genuine, mature and rational debate about how we make that happen. regions which can guarantee access to the European market.

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Steve Cohen’s ‘That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic’

March 7, 2017 at 6:08 pm (Anti-Racism, anti-semitism, From the archives, good people, Human rights, internationalism, israel, Judaism, left, Middle East, palestine, zionism)

Steve Cohen (ZT”L) died on 8th March 2009. He had been a member of the Jewish Socialists Group, the International Marxist Group, and a leading campaigner for migrants rights. An outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights, he was nevertheless concerned about the prevalence of anti-Semitism on parts of the left and pro-Palestinian movement. Steve was a prolific writer (we tried to rope him into Shiraz towards the end of his life), but by far his most important work was That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic, which can be read in full on the website devoted to Steve and his great little book, which we reproduce here in memory of a fine comrade:

An anti-racist analysis of left anti-semitism by Steve Cohen (ZT”L), edited by Libby Lawson and Erica Bunnan:

There Must Be Some Way Out of Here

 In 1984 I wrote a booklet against anti-Semitism. For this I was denounced as a Zionist.

In 2005 I wrote a pastiche poem criticising Zionism. For this I was denounced as an anti-Semite by some people on the Engage website. What is happening here?

It seems to me that one of the things that is happening is that whatever the fundamental political distinction between anti Semitism and anti Zionism (a distinction I see as absolute) yet on an emotional and existential level the two have become hopelessly intertwined—and this itself is political. Something else which is happening is the confirmation as far as I’m concerned of a political analysis of anti-Semitism which in my naivety, strikes me as obvious but which I’ve never seen articulated anywhere else. This is that the Jewish Chronicle and Socialist Worker are both correct. And incorrect. Zionism is anti racist. And Zionism is racist. I cannot see how Zionism in its triumphant form (the Israeli state) is anything except essentially racist. It was founded on the dispossession of the Palestinians. And it continues on the super exploitation and humiliation of the Palestinians as the “other”. To deny this strikes me as fundamentally immoral. I also happen to think that two states, one of which by definition has to be exclusively Jewish is similarly immoral. I think majoritarianism (the legitimisation of an entity through numbers) is immoral wherever it presents itself—it leads at the very least to forced population movement and at its most extreme to ethnic cleansing and all that implies. I’ll leave open to discussion and personal judgement the point on this continuum that Israel may already guilty and at which a divided state would become guilty.

On the other hand it seems to me equally undeniable that Zionism in its inception was anti-racist. It was a reaction against, a way of dealing with, European anti-Semitism. Maybe as a revolutionary socialist writing in Prestwich in 2005 it would not be my way. However as a Jew of whatever political persuasion in Europe after the coming to power of Hitler in 1933 or the defeat of the revolution in Spain in 1939 I may well have had a different position. And if fascism ever took over here and Jews were barred entry elsewhere then I guess I might take a different position. I empathise with the “bolt hole” theory of Zionism. I appreciate the significance of the remarks by Isaac Deutscher, the Polish Marxist ex-rabbi, who wrote in later life “In this controversy (between socialism and Zionism) Zionism has scored a horrible victory, one of which it could neither wish nor expect; six million Jews had to perish in Hitler’s gas chambers in order that Israel should come to life … If instead of arguing against Zionism in the 1920s and 1930s I had urged European Jewry to go to Palestine, I might have saved some of the lives that were later extinguished in Hitler’s gas chambers” (Israel’s Spiritual Climate). I take it as axiomatic that any revolutionary of that pre-war period would have fought for the absolute right of Jews to enter Palestine. To have argued otherwise, to have argued for immigration controls, would have meant support for the British Mandate whose army tried to prevent entry. However the tenets of revolutionary socialism (tenets to which I still hold even in these days of Blair, Bush, Sharon and … Bin Laden) would demand that entry into the then Palestine would/should have lead to an attempt to forge an alliance between Jewish workers and Palestinian workers and peasants against the Zionist leadership, the absentee Palestinian landlords and the British soldiery. Of course the task would have been enormous. But the failure of that historic task has lead to what we have today—Israel the perpetual blood bath.

It is because Zionism is both racist and anti-racist that I call myself an anti-Zionist Zionist. It is also because Zionism is racist and anti racist that there is an even more urgent need to rigorously distinguish anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism. This itself requires a rigorous definition of both—otherwise how is it rationally possible to ever distinguish the two? I do not think there is ever the question of anti-Zionism discourse “becoming” or “sliding into” anti-Semitism. If a position is anti-semitic then it is anti-semitic in its origins—it does not become so. It is nothing whatsoever to do with Zionism. So, fascistic critiques of Israel are not about Zionism. They are about Jews. And this is the point. Anti-Zionism is about solidarity with the Palestinians. Anti-Semitism is about the Jewish conspiracy. Not all critiques of Israel are based on Jewish conspiracy theories. And anti-Semitism is not going to help progress the Palestinian cause. Just as August Bebel famously described the equation of capital with Jew as the socialism of fools then the equation of Zionism with world domination with Jew is the anti-zionism of fools.

It often feels like the wisdom of Solomon is required to know how to deal politically with this grotesque foolishness. One issue is the actual (the “cleansing” of Jews from Jerusalem in 1948, the suicide bombings of today) or threatened (“drive them into the sea”) repression of Israeli Jews which fuels a fortress mentality and to which sections of the left retain an ambivalent or agnostic attitude. Another issue that should be a matter of concern is that anti-semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism drives away those who would otherwise want to give solidarity to the Palestinian cause. For myself, this is what I found unfortunate in the debate over the boycott of some or all Israeli universities. Whatever the motive of those proposing the boycott (and like Engage I’m opposed to exceptionalising Israel) there is still an imperative need to offer real, material, political support to the Palestinians. I think for myself the best way of dealing with any particular proposed boycott is to come to a decision on whether the boycott would help the Palestinians irrespective of its proposers—and organise independently against anti-Semitism. Which perhaps meaning building a movement that simultaneously is dedicated to Palestinian solidarity and opposition to anti-Semitism.

It is apparent from what I’ve said that I also disagree with what I take to be the dominant position within Engage—namely that in our contemporary world anti-Zionism must inevitably equate with anti-Semitism. Paradoxically I also disagree with Engage’s position that in the modern world the form that anti-Semitism takes is through (foolish) anti-Zionism. I think it is worse than that. Obviously this is one form that is taken by the theory of the world Jewish conspiracy. However it seems to me that this is merely concealing more classic forms—Jew as all-powerful (the “Zionist lobby” running the USA), Jew as financial manipulator (the world being supposedly run by trans-national corporations and not imperialist states), Jew as murderer (take your pick—the blitzing of Iraq comes in there somewhere through its constant equation with the repression of the Palestinians). Jew as the subject of the blood libel (ditto but add the surreal accusation that Jews are responsible for September 11th), Jew as the killer of the first born (double ditto), Jew as poisoner of the wells (the anti-urbanisation of much Green politics—with Jews being the urban people par excellence). These images, these world-views, are powerful enough to split off from any anti-zionist base. And they have begun to split off within sections of the anti-globalisation, anti-capitalist movement. It is here that the anti-Zionism of fools emerges with a vengeance but is still subservient to the classic socialism of fools and also to the pre-capitalist feudalism of fools—the real McCoy of jew hatred. This is because anti-capitalism is shared by socialists who aspire to post-capitalist formations and right-wing organisations who hark back to an earlier pre-capitalist age—which is one of many reasons why genuine socialists have to be vigilant against any equation of capital with Jew.

Anti-Semitism on the left has for too long been a taboo subject—probably since the inception of the socialist project itself. I know because in 1984 I was that taboo! I became for a short period a political pariah in sections of the socialist/communist movement (my movement) for daring to raise the subject. Actually when I began writing my book I had no intention of writing anything on anti-Semitism, left or right. I wanted to write and condemn the (latest) Israeli onslaught on Lebanon. I used the left press as source material—and became horrified by what I was reading. And what I was reading was gross stereotyping of the Jew via the stereotyping of Israel as the most powerful force in the universe. All this was redolent of all the old-time European, Christian imagery—just stopping short it seemed of accusations of desecrating the wafer. So I did some research and quickly realised that this left anti-Semitism did not spring from nowhere but unfortunately had a long and dishonourable tradition—going back at least to the successful agitation for immigration controls against Jewish refugees and the 1905 Aliens Act. As it so happened, I was at that time thinking of writing another book just on this agitation—but Pluto Press told me that “Jews don’t sell”. To which I replied that I thought this was what we’ve always been accused of doing too much of. To show Pluto they were not being true Marxists I quoted Marx’s own piece of self-hatred from his On The Jewish Question: “What is the secular cult of the Jew? Haggling”. And then bizarrely I started to come across references and allusions (illusions) in parts of the left press to the wealth and power of Jews, of Jewry, all in the service of Israel—or maybe Israel was in the service of Jews and Jewry. Who knows? It was all rubbish anyway—but extremely dangerous rubbish.

And without managing (with the support of some comrades in the Jewish Socialist Group—the JSG) to keep fixed in my head the absolute distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, I guess I could have gone schizophrenic. There were two great successive nights when I was evicted from a mosque then a shul. I’m always sorry I never made the hat-trick of our common enemy—a church. The mosque incident involved picketing (along with some Asian youth) some local anti-Jewish ayatollah. The shul incident was wonderful. It was in Liverpool. I went with other members of the JSG to picket a meeting that was being held in support of the invasion (a shul supporting a military invasion? This really was Old Testament stuff). What we didn’t know was that the guest speaker was some Israeli General—we should have recognised him by his ripped jeans and tee shirt. As we were being lifted horizontally, face downwards, out of the shul by the stewards I looked down on a face looking up at me. The face looking up said “Weren’t we at Oxford together?”. To which I replied “I think so—were you at Trinity?” That to me is a classic example of tribalism. Mea culpa. I always regret not screaming out “Let my people go!”.

That’s Funny You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic did create ripples. It managed to split the JSG whose then dominant leadership thought it might offend the Socialist Workers Party. It resulted in some pretty dreadful correspondence over many weeks in journals like Searchlight and Peace News. A pamphlet was written denouncing me as a “criminal”. There was a particular review—in Searchlight—one sentence of which I will never forget. Every Jew on the left will know that terrible syndrome whereby, whatever the context and wherever one is, we will be tested by being given the question “what is your position on Zionism?” Wanna support the miners—what’s your position on Zionism? Against the bomb—what’s your position on Zionism? And want to join our march against the eradication of Baghdad, in particular the eradication of Baghdad—what’s your position on Zionism? And we all know what answer is expected in order to pass the test. It is a very strong form of anti-Semitism based on assumptions of collective responsibility. Denounce Zionism, crawl in the gutter, wear a yellow star and we’ll let you in the club. Which is one reason why I call myself an Anti-Zionist Zionist—at least that should confuse the bastards. Anyhow this particular review, noting that my book actually did attack Zionism, said “It is not enough to trot out platitudes, as he does, about being against Zionism and in support of the Palestinian struggle”. So I’m not allowed into the club even though I fulfil the entry requirements. I’m not allowed in because I recognise and oppose the existence of anti-Semitism on the Left—and this therefore renders all support for Palestinians a “platitude”. Well it ain’t me who’s here confusing anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

An accusation greeting the publication of That’s Funny was that even if anti-Semitism existed, it was trivial compared to other forms of oppression—not least that being inflicted on the Palestinians. I find this argument abhorrent. The struggle for communism is not about establishing some equitable scale of oppression and exploitation. It is about smashing all such oppression and exploitation. Switch to Germany 1925—”Comrades why are you harping on about anti-Semitism? It’s trivial. If it ever became significant we will deal with it. Honest”.

But there were positives back in 1984. There were allies out there—for instance the then Manchester and Liverpool branches of the JSG. I discovered that a similar political battle was going on within the feminist magazine Spare Rib and a kind of informal alliance was formed here. I remember that a large debate was organised in the Peace Studies department at Bradford University—where I shared some dope with a member of the PLO. It was Lebanese! And then the three of us who had published the book (we called ourselves The Beyond The Pale Collective) organised a biggish conference in Manchester. And Pluto Press was wrong—we sold a lot of books. We sold enough books to publish another one—on Holocaust Denial by Gill Seidel. This had been accepted by Pluto but then pulped after it had been typeset! I guess this was part of their reality denial.

As far as I’m concerned I’m still prepared to stand behind most of what I wrote those two decades ago. However there is one issue where my position has somewhat changed. And there is a second where I think I missed the plot entirely. First I think the book was, in its critique of assimilation, far too uncritical of the concept of “Jewish culture”. In fact I think it was implicitly far too generous towards Bundism in this respect (though I still support the Bundist championing of political self-organisation). I no longer see Jewish (or any) culture as monolithic. It is fractured and determined by issues of class. I have been in too many situations where the need to fight racism (racist attacks, immigration controls, fascist mobilisations) has been counter-posed by some suggestion about having an “ethnic” evening with “ethnic” clothes and “ethnic” food. It’s got to the stage where, to paraphrase Goebbels, whenever I hear the word multiculture I want to reach for my gun. In particular I am now ruthlessly opposed to denominational schools—be they Jewish, Muslim, Catholic or Church of England. Some of this has been informed by the racist admission practices of the Jewish School in Manchester (no Jewish mother no entry). However the substantive point is that as a militant atheist I am opposed to the state subsidising the garbage of religion—any religion. And anyhow, I’m for the unity of people of all ages not their division. At the same time I’m equally opposed to the (political) drive towards assimilation—I don’t see incorporation into the norms of imperialism as a step forward for humanity. The latest example of this drive towards incorporation is the suggestion by the Home Office Minister, Hazel Blears, following the London underground bombings that ‘minorities should be described as, for example “Asian-British” rather than simply as “Asian”‘. (Times 8 August 2005). The idea of the labelling and re-labelling of human beings as a method of protecting the citizenry of London is as ludicrous as all other justifications used for restricting the free movement of the same human beings. In the past slaves were branded—literally and with fire. Under the modern market economy it is people. This commoditisation of the alien reduces her or him to a piece of capital, to a new form of enslavement – the enslavement of a forced identity within a hostile society ever ready to deport and expel.

Second I come to missing the plot. This is not about what I wrote. It is about what I did not write. In fact it was what I explicitly refrained from writing. So I said “The book says nothing about socialist or liberation movements in the third world, deliberately so, because countries in the third world have not historically been within the grip of Christianity, and thus have no tradition of conspiracy theories. For example within Islam both Jew and Christian were seen as infidels—and certainly there was no constant mythology of universal Jewish domination. If notions about Jewish power entered the third world, then that is a product of imperialistic and Christian penetration”.

Looking back on this from today’s realities it clearly is inadequate. For instance I cannot see any basis for conspiracy theories (i.e. classic anti-Semitism) within Islam historically, however badly Jews (usually alongside Christians) were sometimes mistreated. I guess for this we have to be thankful we never bumped off Mohammed as well as Jesus. However it would be a matter of interesting political investigation to see precisely how conspiracy theories have subsequently entered the Muslim world—to see how they have become the Islam of fools. Moreover whatever the significance today of Left anti-Semitism, its influence and social weight is insignificant compared to that within Muslim communities (an anti-Semitism which is possibly matched by racism within the Jewish community). So the Elders of the Protocols of Zion is a best seller in Arabic speaking countries. So I’ve read how Islamicists blame “world Jewry” for both the New York and London underground bombings. And this junk needs to be challenged. And it needs to be challenged by the Left—and it isn’t. In fact it is encouraged—if only obliquely.

It is encouraged by Israeli exceptionalism—by the constant depiction and caricaturing of Israel as somehow being the pre-eminent world imperialist power. Inasmuch as I might be for some boycott of Israeli universities then I’m equally in support of a boycott of British universities because of their collusion in the institutionalised apartheid of immigration controls—that is either collusion by their silence or by their active co-operation with the Home Office in developing controls (which appears to be the case with University College London). It is encouraged by the emergence on demonstrations against the American invasion of Iraq, of the denunciation of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank—as though there was some intrinsic connection between the two which is not shared with other imperialist interventions. It is encouraged by the sycophantic, uncritical relationship that the SWP/Respect has towards the Muslim leadership as organised, for instance, around the mosques—these Muslim machers are as right-wing and often as anti-Semitic as their Jewish macher counterparts organised around the shuls are anti-Islam. In the beginning was the Board of Deputies? Today there is the Muslim Association of Britain. Macherism, the political reliance on a self-appointed leadership (the macherites) is a political disease which needs to be challenged and destroyed—instead sections of the Left are cultivating it at its most dangerous points.

Is there any way out of this mess? Particularly is there any way out of this mess for socialists in this country trapped politically between the existential linkage of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism? Is there a wisdom of Solomon? In all humility I think so. Of course we can all have our own politics on the way forward as regards Israel/Palestine. My own vision is of a federated secular and socialist middle east. This maybe is utopic but so is socialism. So is the revolution. So is all meaningful change. However there is going to be no way forward without a recognition of the fundamental block towards any change whatsoever—namely the world wide antagonism between Jews and Muslims. The international nature of this cleavage is central. Only joint and grassroots solidarity between the players in the game can possibly open up any dialogue. In Israel/Palestine this means between the Jewish and Palestinian masses. For instance let there be a march of a hundred thousand Israeli peaceniks into the occupied territories—and let them stay until the Israeli army and the settlers march out (or co-operate with the Palestinians in the sharing of resources—including the opening up of the new townships to Palestinians). Let Engage encourage this with its co-thinkers in Israel!

In this country it means joint activity between Jews and Muslims (and socialists) with the Jewish and Muslim communities. And what this boils down to is joint activity against fascism and racism. I suggested above the necessity to start to develop a movement simultaneously based on struggle for Palestinian rights and against anti-Semitism. This is presently an abstraction. However another real movement does exist against racism which can draw the two communities together in struggle. This is the disparate movement against immigration controls—for whom the Jews were the first and Muslims the latest victims. Of course controls need to be challenged in their own right—not just as a device for unity. However the challenge can also forge a unity which presently seems a million miles away. What is more the history of the last thirty years of struggle by migrants, immigrants and refugees against controls shows something that SWP/Respect have utterly missed. This is that real, meaningful, progressive political activity within the Muslim community (and all third world communities) comes from the grassroots either by by-passing or defeating the community machers. Let Engage become involved in these struggles both because of their intrinsic political importance and as part of its commitment to challenging left anti-Semitism by building meaningful alliances!

It could begin by supporting the campaign of Samina Altaf and her two children to fight deportation. Samina’s is just one of countless stories—though I guess more immediately poignant. Having fled Pakistan to avoid repeated domestic abuse she was refused asylum here. Like all asylum seekers she is outside of the welfare state and has been forcibly dispersed into Salford by the so-called National Asylum Support Service (NASS—a wing of the Home Office). And now as a failed asylum seeker who is refusing to return “voluntarily” to the country from she fled she is being threatened by NASS with eviction onto the streets. And I forgot to mention this—Samina is disabled with rickets. And her children are crippled with rickets. Get involved with the campaign! Write a letter of support to her constituency MP—Hazel Blears that well known re-labeller of third world identity and warrior against international terrorism (address House of Commons, Westminster, London SW1). Blears happens to be a Home Office MP—so terrorise her with letters of support. And invite a speaker from the campaign to one of your meetings—whilst sending money to the campaign (address Samina Altaf Defence Campaign, c/o Bury Law Centre, 8 Banks St, Bury BL9 ODL).

Finally I think that not one iota of the above can ever be resolved through communalism, through tribalism, through uncritically supporting Jews as Jews or Muslims as Muslims. My religion right or wrong! And all due to an accident of birth. I guess I recoil when I read on the Engage website the reflection on being Jewish—”frankly I can’t get enough of it”. Jewish identity as an addiction is not much of an advert for clarity of political thought. I was shocked by a news report I read a few years ago. It is a story that deserves creative fictionalisation. It concerned a guy who was raised in a highly Zionist family (I guess High Zionism is the Jewish version of High Church). He was raised as a conscious racist towards the Palestinians. Dirty Arabs! Until he discovered he was one of them—He was an adopted son. His biological parents were, I think, Libyan. Overnight (or maybe it took a little longer) he became a vehement anti-Zionist—and Jew hater. Dirty Jews! I was struck by two very powerful televisual images during the recent eviction of the Gaza settlers by the (Orwellian entitled) Israeli Defence Force. One was that of Israeli soldiers crying. The Israeli army in tears? One of the most powerful militaries in the world! Why no tears when the Palestinians were evicted? The second image was just bizarre in its tribalism. This was that of the settlers being evicted and the soldiers evicting them temporarily desisting from their civil war and praying together on shabbos—with the evictions resuming as soon as shabbos ended. Compared to this crazy chauvinism the legendary Christmas Day football match in the trenches of World War One between German and British soldiers was a genuine act of internationalism. However there can be no genuine internationalism, no genuine international solidarity, no meaningful working together of ordinary people wherever tribalism or communalism dominates. And at the moment it is precisely these reactionary formations that dominate both Muslim and Jewish communities—and the tragedy is they are hardening. It would be good if Engage put its energy into helping soften them.

Steve Cohen
2005

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That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic

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Amnesty’s 2016/17 Annual Report and the effects of the Brexit vote

February 22, 2017 at 9:49 pm (Anti-Racism, campaigning, Civil liberties, CPB, Europe, Human rights, internationalism, Jim D, stalinism)

Amnesty International has released its 2016/17 Annual Report. Once again, I am indebted to the Morning Star for drawing my attention to a valuable publication. However (and once again) I have to note that the M Star’s coverage is – shall we say – misleading when it comes to the effects of the EU referendum campaign and result. The report notes (in the section on the UK), that “The National Police Chiefs’ Council’s official statistics in June and September showed a 57% spike in reporting of hate crime in the week immediately following the EU membership referendum, followed by a decrease in reporting to a level 14% higher than the same period the previous year. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed his concern in June. Government statistics published in October showed an increase in hate crimes of 19% over the previous year, with 79% of the incidents recorded classified as ‘race hate crimes’. In November, the CERD Committee called on the UK to take steps to address the increase in such hate crimes”.

As we’ve come to expect, the Brexit-supporting M Star makes no mention of this aspect of the report, but quotes (or is it a quote? There are no quote marks round it) Amnesty UK director Kerry Moscoguri saying that the attacks on migrants and refugees didn’t start with the Brexit campaign – a statement so banal and beside the point as to be meaningless.
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Below: Amnesty’s press release summarises the report:

‘Politics of demonization’ breeding division and fear

  • Amnesty International releases its Annual Report for 2016 to 2017
  • Risk of domino effect as powerful states backtrack on human rights commitments
  • Salil Shetty, head of the global movement, warns that “never again” has become meaningless as states fail to react to mass atrocities

Politicians wielding a toxic, dehumanizing “us vs them” rhetoric are creating a more divided and dangerous world, warned Amnesty International today as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world.

The report, The State of the World’s Human Rights, delivers the most comprehensive analysis of the state of human rights around the world, covering 159 countries. It warns that the consequences of “us vs them” rhetoric setting the agenda in Europe, the United States and elsewhere is fuelling a global pushback against human rights and leaving the global response to mass atrocities perilously weak.

“2016 was the year when the cynical use of ‘us vs them’ narratives of blame, hate and fear took on a global prominence to a level not seen since the 1930s. Too many politicians are answering legitimate economic and security fears with a poisonous and divisive manipulation of identity politics in an attempt to win votes,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“Divisive fear-mongering has become a dangerous force in world affairs. Whether it is Trump, Orban, Erdoğan or Duterte, more and more politicians calling themselves anti-establishment are wielding a toxic agenda that hounds, scapegoats and dehumanizes entire groups of people.

“Today’s politics of demonization shamelessly peddles a dangerous idea that some people are less human than others, stripping away the humanity of entire groups of people. This threatens to unleash the darkest aspects of human nature.”

Politics of demonization drives global pushback on human rights

Seismic political shifts in 2016 exposed the potential of hateful rhetoric to unleash the dark side of human nature. The global trend of angrier and more divisive politics was exemplified by Donald Trump’s poisonous campaign rhetoric, but political leaders in various parts of the world also wagered their future power on narratives of fear, blame and division.

This rhetoric is having an increasingly pervasive impact on policy and action. In 2016, governments turned a blind eye to war crimes, pushed through deals that undermine the right to claim asylum, passed laws that violate free expression, incited murder of people simply because they are accused of using drugs, justified torture and mass surveillance, and extended draconian police powers.

Governments also turned on refugees and migrants; often an easy target for scapegoating. Amnesty International’s Annual Report documents how 36 countries violated international law by unlawfully sending refugees back to a country where their rights were at risk.

Most recently, President Trump put his hateful xenophobic pre-election rhetoric into action by signing an executive order in an attempt to prevent refugees from seeking resettlement in the USA; blocking people fleeing conflict and persecution from war-torn countries such as Syria from seeking safe haven in the country.

Meanwhile, Australia purposefully inflicts terrible suffering by trapping refugees on Nauru and Manus Island, the EU made an illegal and reckless deal with Turkey to send refugees back there, even though it is not safe for them, and Mexico and the USA continue to deport people fleeing rampant violence in Central America.

Elsewhere, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Thailand and Turkey carried out massive crackdowns. While other countries pursued intrusive security measures, such as prolonged emergency powers in France and unprecedented catastrophic surveillance laws in the UK. Another feature of “strongman” politics was a rise in anti-feminist and -LGBTI rhetoric, such as efforts to roll back women’s rights in Poland, which were met with massive protests.

“Instead of fighting for people’s rights, too many leaders have adopted a dehumanizing agenda for political expediency. Many are violating rights of scapegoated groups to score political points, or to distract from their own failures to ensure economic and social rights,” said Salil Shetty.

“In 2016, these most toxic forms of dehumanization became a dominant force in mainstream global politics. The limits of what is acceptable have shifted. Politicians are shamelessly and actively legitimizing all sorts of hateful rhetoric and policies based on people’s identity: misogyny, racism and homophobia.

“The first target has been refugees and, if this continues in 2017, others will be in the cross-hairs. The reverberations will lead to more attacks on the basis of race, gender, nationality and religion. When we cease to see each other as human beings with the same rights, we move closer to the abyss.”

World turns its back on mass atrocities

Amnesty International is warning that 2017 will see ongoing crises exacerbated by a debilitating absence of human rights leadership on a chaotic world stage. The politics of “us vs them” is also taking shape at the international level, replacing multilateralism with a more aggressive, confrontational world order.

“With world leaders lacking political will to put pressure on other states violating human rights, basic principles from accountability for mass atrocities to the right to asylum are at stake,” said Salil Shetty.

“Even states that once claimed to champion rights abroad are now too busy rolling back human rights at home to hold others to account. The more countries backtrack on fundamental human rights commitments, the more we risk a domino effect of leaders emboldened to knock back established human rights protections.”

The world faces a long list of crises with little political will to address them: including Syria, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Central America, Central African Republic, Burundi, Iraq, South Sudan and Sudan. Amnesty International’s Annual Report documented war crimes committed in at least 23 countries in 2016.

Despite these challenges, international indifference to war crimes has become an entrenched normality as the UN Security Council remains paralyzed by rivalries between permanent member states.

“The beginning of 2017 finds many of the world’s most powerful states pursuing narrower national interests at the expense of international cooperation. This risks taking us towards a more chaotic, dangerous world,” said Salil Shetty.

“A new world order where human rights are portrayed as a barrier to national interests makes the ability to tackle mass atrocities dangerously low, leaving the door open to abuses reminiscent of the darkest times of human history.

“The international community has already responded with deafening silence after countless atrocities in 2016: a live stream of horror from Aleppo, thousands of people killed by the police in the Philippines’ ‘war on drugs’, use of chemical weapons and hundreds of villages burned in Darfur. The big question in 2017 will be how far the world lets atrocities go before doing something about them.”

Who is going to stand up for human rights?

Amnesty International is calling on people around the world to resist cynical efforts to roll back long-established human rights in exchange for the distant promise of prosperity and security.

The report warns that global solidarity and public mobilization will be particularly important to defend individuals who stand up to those in power and defend human rights, who are often cast by governments as a threat to economic development, security or other priorities.

Amnesty International’s annual report documents people killed for peacefully standing up for human rights in 22 countries in 2016. They include those targeted for challenging entrenched economic interests, defending minorities and small communities or opposing traditional barriers to women’s and LGBTI rights. The killing of the high-profile Indigenous leader and human rights defender Berta Cáceres in Honduras on 2 March 2016 sent a chilling message to activists but nobody was brought to justice.

“We cannot passively rely on governments to stand up for human rights, we the people have to take action. With politicians increasingly willing to demonize entire groups of people, the need for all of us to stand up for the basic values of human dignity and equality everywhere has seldom been clearer,” said Salil Shetty.

“Every person must ask their government to use whatever power and influence they have to call out human rights abusers. In dark times, individuals have made a difference when they took a stand, be they civil rights activists in the USA, anti-apartheid activists in South Africa, or women’s rights and LGBTI movements around the world. We must all rise to that challenge now.”

Background

Amnesty International has documented grave violations of human rights in 2016 in 159 countries. Examples of the rise and impact of poisonous rhetoric, national crackdowns on activism and freedom of expression highlighted by Amnesty International in its Annual Report include, but are by no means limited, to:

Bangladesh: Instead of providing protection for or investigating the killings of activists, reporters and bloggers, authorities have pursued trials against media and the opposition for, among other things, Facebook posts.

China: Ongoing crackdown against lawyers and activists continued, including incommunicado detention, televised confessions and harassments of family members.

DRC: Pro-democracy activists subjected to arbitrary arrests and, in some cases, prolonged incommunicado detention.

Egypt: Authorities used travel bans, financial restrictions and asset freezes to undermine, smear and silence civil society groups.

Ethiopia: A government increasingly intolerant of dissenting voices used anti-terror laws and a state of emergency to crack down on journalists, human rights defenders, the political opposition and, in particular, protesters who have been met with excessive and lethal force.

France: Heavy-handed security measures under the prolonged state of emergency have included thousands of house searches, as well as travel bans and detentions.

Honduras: Berta Cáceres and seven other human rights activists were killed.

Hungary: Government rhetoric championed a divisive brand of identity politics and a dark vision of “Fortress Europe”, which translated into a policy of systematic crackdown on refugee and migrants rights.

India: Authorities used repressive laws to curb freedom of expression and silence critical voices. Human rights defenders and organizations continued to face harassment and intimidation. Oppressive laws have been used to try to silence student activists, academics, journalists and human rights defenders.

Iran: Heavy suppression of freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and religious beliefs. Peaceful critics jailed after grossly unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts, including journalists, lawyers, bloggers, students, women’s rights activists, filmmakers and even musicians.

Myanmar: Tens of thousands of Rohingya people – who remain deprived of a nationality – displaced by “clearance operations” amid reports of unlawful killings, indiscriminate firing on civilians, rape and arbitrary arrests. Meanwhile, state media published opinion articles containing alarmingly dehumanizing language.

Philippines: A wave of extrajudicial executions ensued after President Duterte promised to kill tens of thousands of people suspected of being involved in the drug trade.

Russia: At home the government noose tightened around national NGOs, with increasing propaganda labelling critics as “undesirable” or “foreign agents”, and the first prosecution of NGOs under a “foreign agents” law. Meanwhile, dozens of independent NGOs receiving foreign funding were added to the list of “foreign agents”. Abroad there was a complete disregard for international humanitarian law in Syria.

Saudi Arabia: Critics, human rights defenders and minority rights activists have been detained and jailed on vaguely worded charges such as “insulting the state”. Coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia committed serious violations of international law, including alleged war crimes, in Yemen. Coalition forces bombed schools, hospitals, markets and mosques, killing and injuring thousands of civilians using arms supplied by the US and UK governments, including internationally banned cluster bombs.

South Sudan: Ongoing fighting continued to have devastating humanitarian consequences for civilian populations, with violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Sudan: Evidence pointed strongly to the use of chemical weapons by government forces in Darfur. Elsewhere, suspected opponents and critics of the government subjected to arbitrary arrests and detentions. Excessive use of force by the authorities in dispersing gatherings led to numerous casualties.

Syria: Impunity for war crimes and gross human rights abuses continued, including indiscriminate attacks and direct attacks on civilians and lengthy sieges that trapped civilians. The human rights community has been almost completely crushed, with activists either imprisoned, tortured, disappeared, or forced to flee the country.

Thailand: Emergency powers, defamation and sedition laws used to restrict freedom of expression.

Turkey: Tens of thousands locked up after failed coup, with hundreds of NGOs suspended, a massive media crackdown, and the continuing onslaught in Kurdish areas.

UK: A spike in hate crimes followed the referendum on European Union membership. A new surveillance law granted significantly increased powers to intelligence and other agencies to invade people’s privacy on a massive scale.

USA: An election campaign marked by discriminatory, misogynist and xenophobic rhetoric raised serious concerns about the strength of future US commitments to human rights domestically and globally.

Venezuela: Backlash against outspoken human rights defenders who raised the alarm about the humanitarian crisis caused by the government’s failure to meet the economic and social rights of the population.

For more information or to request an interview please call Amnesty International’s press office in London, UK, on

+44 20 7413 5566 or +44 (0)77 7847 2126

email: press@amnesty.org

twitter: @amnestypress

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