No excuses for Sarah Champion

August 17, 2017 at 6:46 pm (child abuse, Europe, immigration, Islam, Jim D, labour party, misogyny, Murdoch, Racism)

17-trevor-kavanagh-davidsandison.jpgTrevor Kavanagh’s column quoted Champion approvingly (pic: David Sandison)

Sarah Champion would not have been wrong to have raised the question of the likely connection between sexual abusers’ cultural (not racial, or even religious) backgrounds and their attitudes towards women and girls. Others have done this without making any concessions to racism. What she was – unforgivably – wrong to have done, was to have written about such a sensitive matter in the Sun, a rag with a long and well-known record of taking a (shall we say) cavalier attitude to racism.

Indeed, all this could well have been a set-up by the Sun. They wrote the headline and quite possibly the line which made it specific about “white girls”. Champion’s office had the Sun‘s final version of the article before it was published, and, of course, she could have objected to this but either didn’t bother checking it or (more likely) was flattered to be published and thought it would raise her profile.

Even so the outcry, at first, was not that great. It looked like Champion was going to survive it. According to today’s Guardian, “the Labour leader’s office appeared to back Champion until yesterday until yesterday lunchtime, when positive emails from her office to the Sun in the aftermath of her article’s publication were highlighted by the newspaper.”  By and large Corbyn supporters online had been quiet about the issue. Even the SWP were not really kicking off about it.

What did for Champion was Trevor Kavanagh’s shamelessly racist pro-Brexit article that quoted Champion approvingly. It used language that echoed Nazi stuff about the ‘Jewish Problem’, and thanked Champion (and Trevor Phillips) for “making it acceptable to say Muslims are a specific rather than a cultural problem.”

The article closed with a sinister rhetorical question:

One day soon, if Philip Hammond and Liam Fox are right, we will be back in charge of immigration.

What will we do about The Muslim Problem then?

Not surprisingly this caused outrage and the Corbyn team, quite rightly, wanted to respond but Sarah Champion’s article was the elephant in the room, inhibiting the Labour leadership from making an immediate, outspoken response.

All the evidence (including her own record as shadow equalities minister) suggests she’s an idiot rather than a racist. But that’s no excuse. She had to go.

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Whatever Trump now says, fascists like Bannon and Gorka still hold sway in the White House

August 15, 2017 at 1:47 pm (anti-semitism, fascism, Jim D, nationalism, populism, profiteers, Racism, Trump, wankers)

Anyone foolish enough to be impressed by Trump’s belated condemnation of the far right, should remember that he still employs people who can  accurately be described as fascists: Bannon, Gorka and the slightly less high-profile Miller. Then, of course, there’s his own long record of blatant, crude racism.

This excellent discussion, concentrating on the sinister Gorker, is well worth putting 15 minutes aside to watch:

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Anne Marie Waters: from secular leftism to the extreme right

August 12, 2017 at 4:18 pm (Anti-Racism, campaigning, Islam, islamism, Jim D, Racism, secularism, UKIP)

Anne Marie Waters is standing for UKIPs leadership, and even some UKIP’ers are unhappy about this. She was deputy leader of UK Pegida and an ally of Tommy Robinson. She wants to confirm UKIP as an anti-Muslim party like Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in Holland. She has appealed to anti-Muslim people to join UKIP in order to vote for her, and it seems likely that quite a few will have done so.

Only a few years ago she was a Labour Party activist (Secretary of Streatham CLP) and  was working with left wing secularists like Maryam Namzie (of One Law For All) and Peter Tatchell, as well as being a spokesperson for the National Secular Society.

 Her resignation letter to Labour in 2013 cited many things Shiraz would agree with.

… although a comrade who knew her then says this:

“She was my CLP secretary in Streatham and was a deeply unpleasant Blairite with methods of a stalinist. She doesn’t just overestimate the threat of islamism in the UK and fail to balance it with racism faced by muslims (itself more forgivable mistake in people who’ve suffered under islamofascist regimes and moved to the UK than in white women from London). It was clear while she was still in Labour that she had a hostility to muslims and specifically muslim immigrants not just islamism. I think this actually does have a link to her work in the Labour party and her wild anti immigrant rhetoric …”

There is a long and sordid history of people moving from the left to the far right. Oswald Mosley was seen as a leftie Labour MP until he left to form the New Party.  It would be as stupid to taint people on the left who worked with Waters as it would be to call Nye Bevan “soft on fascism” because he was Mosley’s ally when the latter was still in the Labour Party.

Here’s what Maryam Namzie wrote when Waters went over to UKIP and formed ‘Sharia Watch’:

Walking a tightrope: Between the pro-Islamist Left and the far-Right

UPDATE: 7 May 2014

One Law for All opposes new Sharia Watch campaign

As you all know, Co-Spokesperson Anne Marie Waters resigned in November 2013. What you don’t know is that her resignation followed more recent political disagreements on some key issues, including One Law for All’s refusal to collaborate with the members of racist and far-Right groups and our insistence on the need to distinguish between Muslims/immigrants and Islamists. “Walking a Tightrope: Between a Pro-Islamist Left and the far-Right” below was written in response to the disagreements in question.

Given the context of Anne Marie’s resignation, her initiation of “Sharia Watch” and her leaving the Labour Party and joining UKIP as a candidate should be seen as an attempt at organising a “respectable” rightwing response to the issue of Sharia law and the furtherance of a politics that is diametrically at odds with One Law for All’s. As I mentioned in “Walking a Tightrope”, whilst frustration and a sense of betrayal at the Pro-Islamist Left is understandable, finding solace in and partnership with the racist Right and far-Right is not.

Since its establishment last month, Sharia Watch has publicised links like “Muslim Rape Culture” from the ghastly Frontpage Magazine, given updates on the far-Right Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller and the English Defence League, publicised videos like “Sacrificing our Daughters: On the Psychology of Islamic Rape Gangs”, and written a piece on how halal meat funds terrorism!

We want to make very clear that we have no links with Sharia Watch, UKIP or Anne Marie Waters and will oppose their brand of racist hate politics every step of the way.

One Law for All is proud of the broad-based coalition of secular Muslim, ex-Muslim, non-Muslim, atheist…  groups and individuals it has helped shape over nearly 6 years of organising and activism. As is very clear from our work, our fight is not just a fight against Sharia; it is first and foremost a fight against Islamism and the religious-Right as well as countering racism and for equality, universal and citizenship rights, international solidarity, and secularism.

******************
Opposing Sharia and Islamism in the west is like walking on a tight rope most of the time – thwarting attacks from the Left, refuting cultural relativism, preventing alliances with the far-Right, explaining the issues ignored by government and the media, mobilising support for secularism and citizenship whilst opposing racism and xenophobia, and making linkages with the many fighting Islamism on the ground in countries across the world. It’s easy to fall off the tight rope and doesn’t surprise me when it happens given all the pressures involved.

Most disconcerting for many are the pressures from the Left; it is particularly hard when your “natural allies” betray basic human principles whilst using the language of rights and tolerance to defend the denial of rights and the intolerable.

Take this past weekend’s panel discussion at the NYU Global Secularisms conference that I was on. One of my co-panellists said she opposed all fundamentalists, including secular ones, when asked about my talk and another accused me of aiding and abetting racism against Muslims and Arabs by my very use of the term Sharia (I’ll have to comment on these later).

Add to this constant demonization, the day to day difficulties of doing such work, including the threats and all the clandestine attempts at intimidation and it is quite easy to see how one can be disillusioned and fall off the tightrope. (Just this week, I was asked to reassure a ‘moderate Muslim gentleman’ – read Islamist – with the content of my talk though he wouldn’t be attending and wanted me disinvited.)

I suppose it’s easier for people like me to stay the course coming from an Iranian Left political tradition with crystal clear clarity and an uncompromising defence of humanity. The Left I belong to has opposed cultural relativism and defended universal values and hasn’t sided with the Iranian regime or Syria’s Asad like Stop the War Coalition and the Socialist Workers Party.

When faced with such betrayal, I can fully understand that, for some, staying on course becomes impossible. What I can’t understand and will never accept, though, is falling off the tightrope or even trying to stay on whilst simultaneously finding solace in and partnership with the far-Right.

The argument in favour of collaboration with the far-Right is that we need as many allies as possible in the fight against Sharia and Islamism, which means that we must be “inclusive” and “tolerant” of those whose views we may find distasteful – all for the “cause.”

Sound familiar?

Is this not what the pro-Islamist Left says in justifying its collaboration with the Islamists?

I for one already work with many groups and individuals whose views I find distasteful; it is possible to do that in specific campaigns like One Law for All. But no movement includes or represents everyone. There are limits. And there are principles that are more important than any “cause.”

Also, creating movements is not merely a numbers game. When Stop the War Coalition brought in Islamists as partners, it ignored Islamic terrorism and discrimination against women. It sided with oppressive regimes, segregated meetings and defended Sharia and the veil. It brought lots of people to the streets initially but at what cost and for how long?

Collaborating with the likes of the English Defence League (EDL) may increase numbers in the short-term, but it’s self-defeating. This isn’t only about numbers. Aims and principles matter too.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I’m against the war on Iraq as is Al Qaeda but we’re against it for different reasons. I’m against Sharia and so is the EDL and the supposedly reinvented Tommy Robinson but we’re against it for different reasons.

I oppose Sharia in Britain and everywhere because universal rights, secularism, women’s rights and equality mean something to me. The EDL and Tommy Robinson oppose it because they want to defend their “homeland” (which I am reminded is a human right recognised by the UN) from “the changes and dangers brought to it by mass influxes of people from cultures they don’t understand or recognise.” Can you not see the fundamental differences in position? Theirs is a xenophobic position that blames immigrants and minorities for everything wrong with Britain. It’s a racist perspective that sees the teeming masses as the “other” trying to change white, British, Christian culture.

But people’s “culture” is not based on their immigration or citizenship status. Not every white European represents enlightenment values – as the EDL clearly proves. Nor is every immigrant or minority a regressive theocrat. This is not about a clash of civilisations between a regressive “east” and a secularist “west” but a clash between theocrats and the religious-Right on the one hand and secularists and democrats, including Muslims and immigrants on the other.

Where we each stand is based on our politics and choices not on our “identity” or immigration status. I too am one of those teeming immigrant masses after all as are many who are at the forefront of doing much of the dirty work of defending secularism in Britain and elsewhere.

It always annoys me to no end when I hear that the EDL are the only ones speaking out against Sharia. Please, we were speaking out against Sharia when EDL/BNP-types were openly collaborating with neo-Nazis and for white supremacy. Their language may have changed but political movements and organisations are thankfully not merely judged by the duplicitous language they use.

An undue focus on Britain, “homeland” and the west means that one can only see the likes of the EDL, thereby seeking common cause where there is none.

It also means that one cannot see the real allies in this fight, including amongst the “teeming hoards of immigrants” and women and men struggling in Iran, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Algeria, Mali, Bangladesh, Egypt, Turkey and elsewhere. One Law for All and the fight against Sharia and Islamism is a continuation of their struggle and fight – not that of the EDL’s and far-Right.

The far-Right will never have a place in One Law for All. I will make sure of that.

***
As an aside, I must briefly address the fact that Tommy Robinson has left the EDL. I for one have nothing against working towards common goals with those who have left far-Right organisations – EDL or Islamist. One Law for All already works with ex-Islamists and ex-members of the BNP and EDL. However, I am doubtful that Tommy is a changed man. When Ed Hussain or Majid Nawaaz left Hizb ut Tahrir and founded Quilliam Foundation, they criticised the Islamist organisation they left and created a new position and space for themselves and others. Tommy has yet to do that. So far, all I have heard from him is how proud he is of his time with the EDL; he continues to defend the organisation. He has merely criticised certain elements within the EDL but not the organisation itself and its politics. One can’t be ex-EDL and still defend the EDL if one wants to show that they have truly changed. Islamists do this all the time by changing their organisational name and carrying on with business as usual.

Personally I think this is all a publicity stunt for Tommy to reinvent himself into a more palatable persona without any lasting change in his politics. (Notice how the BBC follows him everywhere?) For his politics to be considered different, he would need to take responsibility for the EDL’s far-Right politics during his leadership and must be judged not only by what he says but by what he does. Only time will tell whether he is the same old Tommy; I certainly hope not.

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Jackie Walker and Scottish PSC: full-on anti-Semitism at Edinburgh Fringe

August 5, 2017 at 6:24 pm (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, conspiracy theories, Jim D, labour party, posted by JD, Racism, scotland, stalinism)

Any pretence that Jackie Walker and her supporters might once have had, that she’s simply an honest-to-goodness”anti-Zionist” but not an anti-Semite, now lie in ruins. She’s now in Atzmon territory:

Inline image

Can anyone tell us who the “they” might be in the sentence “What they wouldn’t let Jackie Walker tell you?”

                                         Inline image

 The banner at the front of the stage is the banner of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Last week a report was published contained 140 pages of screengrabs of antisemitic material posted by SPSC members and activists:
 
 
If the link does not work, google: jewish human rights watch holocaust denial in Scotland
(Gosh! I didn’t know that Princess Di was assassinated by Mossad. Gosh! I didn’t know of plans to build a statue to Adolf Hitler in Israel. Gosh! I didn’t know that the Rothschilds were behind the assassination of President Kennedy. Of course, I already knew that 9/11 was really an inside job by Mossad, just as ISIS is really a Mossad front organisation.)

To save anyone spending time reading the entire report, here are examples of what has been posted by (some) SPSC members and (some) PSC activists:

“The Real Holocaust of World War Two: The Genocide of 15 Million+ Germans.”

“I had not known that many of the claims they (i.e. Jews) made about the Holocaust were in fact fraudulent.”

“It is mostly they (Jews) who push for race mixing and miscegenation, knowing full well that it would eventually lead to those of white European descent being minorities in their own countries and the eventual extermination of white European DNA”.

“Holocaust Against Jews is a Total Lie – Proof.”

“International Red Cross Report Confirms the Holocaust of Six Million Jews Is a Hoax.”

“Not ‘Death Camps’ but Work Camps.”

“ISIS Leader ‘Al-Baghdadi’ is Jewish Mossad Agent.”

The Paris attack “had every single hallmark of a Mossad false flag operation.”

“The Real Reason Why Princess Diana Was Assassinated: Princess Diana was assassinated by Mossad because … …”

“25,000 Ukrainian Children Organs Harvested in Israel.”

“What do both these men (Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi) have in common? They refused to accept American dollars for oil and their central banks were not owned by the Rothschild family.”

“I suggest you investigate the role of the elite in the creation, funding and propagation of Bolshevism and Communism, both Jewish led and funded movements.”

“Israel Did 9/11 to Destroy Seven Countries in Five Years.”

“The problem here is Bashar Assad. He still refuses to open the door to Jewish greed, i.e. Rothschild Central Bank and all the Zionist corporations of the Jewish Lobby, therefore must be replaced by an obedient puppet as in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, etc.”

“Jewish Bolshevik mass murderer Genrikh Yagoda was responsible for between 7 and 10 million deaths. The fact that you’ve never heard of him is exactly why the Jews should not have total control of the media.”

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Louis Armstrong: simply the best

August 4, 2017 at 9:10 am (civil rights, culture, good people, jazz, Jim D, modernism, music, New Orleans, Sheer joy, United States)

Louis Armstrong: born August 4 1901, died July 6 1971


Above: possibly his greatest recording, West End Blues (1928). For a detailed analysis, read what the of the Director of the Louis Armstrong House Museum (in Queens, New York), Ricky Riccardi, wrote, here.

Louis Armstrong never knew the date of his birthday. As Terry Teachout writes in his excellent biography Pops – A Life Of Louis Armstrong (2009):

‘Until the day he died, Louis Armstrong claimed that he was born on July 4, 1900. He said so in Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans and Swing That Music, his two published memoirs, and on innumerable other occasions, and although at least one biographer found the date too pat to be plausible, it was only in 1988 that a researcher located an entry in latin for “Armstrong (niger, illegitimus)” in the handwritten baptismal register of New Orleans’s Sacred Heart of Jesus Church. According to that record, Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901, the natural son of William Armstrong (known as Willie), who spent most of his adult life working in a turpentine factory, and Mary Ann Albert (known as Mayann, though her son spelled it different ways over the years), a fifteen-year-old country girl who came to New Orleans to work as a household servant.’

What was never in doubt is the simple fact that Louis was born  at the absolute bottom of the US socio-economic pile. He was black, his mother was an alcoholic and an occasional prostitute and his father deserted the family before he was born. He seemed destined for a life of poverty and petty crime until a Jewish family, the Karnoffskys, took him under their wing and encouraged his musical talent (including lending him the money for his first cornet). Louis never forgot them and wore a Star of David under his shirt for the rest of his life. That early experience also seems to have conditioned his approach to the race question. He was proud of his Afro-American roots but never a seperatist. He almost always had at least one or two whites in his All Stars – a policy that his manager Joe Glaser encouraged for commercial reasons but that Armstrong believed in as a matter of principle. His closest musical friend was the white trombonist Jack Teagarden, to whom he (allegedly) said on their first encounter, “I’m a spade and you’re an ofay. We got the same soul – so let’s blow.”

Armstrong is, simultaneously, by far the best known figure in jazz and one of the most underrated. The reasons for this have little to do with music and everything to do with image, perception and ideology. Most of today’s jazz fans (despite the sterling efforts of Wynton Marsalis, Stanley Crouch and others) know little of Armstrong and see him as an avuncular buffoon singing lightweight pop songs in a gravel voice. He’s not considered a real jazz musician like, say, John Coltrane or the oh-so-cool Miles Davis. And then there’s that “Uncle Tom” tag. We’ll come to that in a moment.

What is all too easily forgotten in any discussion about Armstrong is the straightfact that he was the single most revolutionary exponent of the most revolutionary music of the Twentieth Century. Long before he became the jovial entertainer the world remembers, he almost single-handedly created jazz as we know it today.

Anyone who doubts this should listen to Armstrong’s first recordings, made with his mentor Joe ‘King’ Oliver’s band in 1923: Olver and the others chug along in the staccato semi-ragtime rhythm that characterised early jazz. Armstrong (playing second cornet to Oliver) uses triplet-based quarter and eighth notes, riding on a 4/4 beat that only existed inside his head. It was the rhythm that that twelve-to-fifteen years later would be called “swing” and make Benny Goodman, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller and a lot of other (mainly white) bandleaders rich and famous. That rhythm, together with the concept of the virtuoso solo, improvised over the chords of the tune, which Armstrong also pioneered, was the springboard for Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and most of what followed in in jazz, up to this very day.

It is of course true that had Armstrong never been born, someone else would have made these musical breakthroughs sooner or later – they were almost necessities waiting to happen. Phillip Larkin (an unstinting Armstrong fan)  oversimplified matters, but had a point when he wrote that Armstrong “simply did what everyone else was doing (but) twenty times better.” We know that Armstrong’s New Orleans contemporary, the clarinet and soprano sax virtuoso Sidney Bechet, was playing along similar lines in the early twenties, with a power and imagination that came close to matching Louis’s. But Bechet was a (literally) wayward character who spent a lot of time travelling in Europe while the epicentre of jazz was the US and, incresingly, New York. He lacked Louis’s personal warmth and although he recorded quite extensively, he didn’t achieve widespread public recognition until he settled in France in the 1950’s where he became something of a folk-hero in his final years.

To understand Armstrong, the man and the performer, you have to understand something of the society he was born into. New Orleans at the turn of the century was a hotbed of vice and violence. It was also, in comparison to the rest of the USA, relatively tolerant in racial, social and cultural matters. The French had founded the city and brought with them a tradition of opera, symphony, dances and parties. This had melded with the work-songs and “shouts” of the black slaves. As a result New Orleans was, as far as can be judged, the birthplace of jazz. The city’s mixed-race “creoles” constituted the vast majority of early jazz musicians of note. It is a myth that early jazz was the preserve of Afro-American “negroes”. In fact creole musicians emphasised their French and/or Spanish heritage and tended to be quite disparaging towards negroes like Armstrong and Oliver.

On New Year’s Eve of 1912 Armstrong was arrested for some high-jinks with a pistol and sent to the “Colored Waif’s Home” – a borstal, albeit a relatively enlightened one for its time. In fact, Louis often stated that being sent there was the single best thing that ever happened to him, mainly because the Home had a band and he soon became lead cornet in it. Years later, in the 1930’s, Louis revisited the place, found his old room and immediately snuggled down on the bunk.

From the Waif’s Home Armstrong went on to become second cornet with King Oliver in Chicago (jazz followed the black migration to the new industries up there), star trumpet soloist with Fletcher Henderson’s sophisticated big band in New York, and then to make the legendary Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings with his old New Orleans confrères Kid Ory (trombone) and Johnny Dodds (clarinet). Listening to the Hot Fives (recorded between November 1925 and December 1927) is an education in personal development: Armstrong soon outstrips and overwhelms his old comrades, making their contributions sound anachronistic, stilted, and generally surplus to requirements.

By the early 1930’s Armstrong was an international star and one of the first black American entertainers to tour Europe; Paul Robeson and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (a big influence on Armstrong) were the only others. At this point a big contradiction becomes apparent: Louis’s stage persona was by then that of an extrovert, exuberant virtuoso. Personally, he was completely insecure (remember that visit to the Waif’s Home), always in need of a tough guy (like the ex-Capone man Joe Glaser) or strong woman (notably second wife Lil and final wife Lucille) to look after him. And even after all the plaudits and awards, he desperately needed the approval of an audience. After the last performance of his life (undertaken against medical advice), he watched a TV review of the show in his hotel room and was devasted by the slating he received; he turned to Joe Glaser with tears in his eyes and asked: “You’ll still book me, Joe?”

Louis ‘mugged’ and played the harmless black minstrel to white audiences throughout his life. Younger black musicians and performers accused him of being an Uncle Tom and there was a tiny grain of truth to the charge. Billie Holiday famously said (affectionately) “Louis toms from the heart” and Sammy Davis Jr. (less affectionately) denounced him for being willing to play for segregated audiences. Terry Teachout comments, “Sammy Davis, after all, had a point: the All Stars did play for segregated audiences, and Armstrong never complained to Glaser about it. ‘I never question owners of dance halls or my manager about the racial patterns of places I am contracted to play… I have been with Joe Glaser too many years to worry about where I play and for whom,’ he had told a reporter for the Courier  in 1956. Nor would he ever take part in civil-rights demonstrations.’My life is music,’ he explained to a reporter. ‘They would beat me in the mouth if I marched, and without my mouth I wouldn’t be able to blow my horn…”

But there was one occasion when even the apolitical Armstrong was unable to contain his inner rage in the face of racism: in 1957, three years after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision required public schools to de-segregate and allow black puils to enroll. But in Little Rock, Arkansas, Governor Orval Faubus openly defied the court’s decison and the Federal Government, ordering the state’s National Guard to join with a mob of howling bigots outside the city’s Central High School to intimidate and obstruct nine black children who were trying to enroll.  Louis, on tour as usual, watched these scenes on his hotel televison shortly before he was interviewd by a cub reporter from a local paper. When the subject of Little Rock came up Louis exploded with rage, calling Faubus a “no good motherfucker” (later changed to “uneducated plowboy”) and denouncing President Eisenhower as “two faced” with “no guts.” He continued: “The way they’re treating my people in the South the government can go to hell,” and vowed that he would not agree to tour the Soviet Union for the State Department, calling Secretary of State Dulles “another motherfucker.” The young reporter had the scoop of a lifetime and Associated Press put the story on the wires.

Eisenhower later sent the army into Little Rock to enforce de-segregation and ensure the Nine were admitted to the school. Whether or not Armstrong’s intervention was a decisive factor in forcing Eisenhower’s hand is still a matter of debate, but the fact that a much-loved and generally apolitical figure had spoken out so strongly must surely have had some effect.

But this was an uncharateristic moment. Louis was not a political person and certainly no black militant. His background and natural inclinations made him an instinctive integrationist. And he generally let his music speak for itself, as when he sang Nobody Knows the Trouble I Seen on the Ed Sullivan Show during the Montgomery bus boycott or performed You’ll Never Walk Alone with the All Stars for a segregated black audience in Savannah, Georgia.

Louis’s sheer humanity is summed up by the New Orleans guitarist Danny Barker (quoted in James Lincoln Collier’s 1983 biography Louis Armstrong – An American Genius), describing Louis on tour, in the dressing room:

“…He be sittin’ down in his underwear with a towel around his lap, one around his shoulders an’ that white hankerchief on his head, and he’d put that grease around his lips. Look like a minstrel man, ya know…an’ laughin’ you know natural the way he is. And in the room ya see, maybe two nuns. You see a street walker dressed all up in flaming clothes. You see a guy come out of the penitentiary. Ya see maybe a blind man sitting there. You see a rabbi, ya see a priest, see. Liable to see maybe two policemen or detectives, see. You see a judge. All of ’em different levels of society in the dressin’ room and he’s talking to all of ’em. ‘Sister So and So, do you know Slick Sam over there? This is Slick Sam, an ole friend of mine.’ Now the nun’s going to meet Slick Sam. Ole Notorious, been in nine penetentiaries. ‘Slick Sam, meet Rabbi Goldstein over there, he’s a friend of mine, rabbi good man, religious man. Sister Margaret, do you know Rabbi Goldstein? Amelia, this is Rosie, good time Rosie, girl used to work a show with me years ago. Good girl, she’s a great performer. Never got the breaks.’ Always a word of encouragement, see. And there’d be some kids there, white and colored. All the diverse people of different social levels…an’ everybody’s looking. Got their eyes dead on him, jus’ like they was lookin’ at a diamond.”

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Unions challenge Corbyn’s Brexit delusion

July 31, 2017 at 8:38 pm (Conseravative Party, economics, Europe, Jim D, labour party, populism, TUC, unions, Unite the union)

Steve Bell cartoon
Above: Labour shouldn’t back this Tory obsession (cartoon: Steve Bell, The Guardian)

Watching the Tories tear themselves apart over Brexit is excellent spectator sport, but some on our side seem determined to follow them into the right wing, nationalist mire. Unfortunately Jeremy Corbyn has been showing signs of revisiting his anti-EU past, apparently committing Labour to hard Brexit, and capitulating to the anti-immigration camp.  Since then, John McDonnell has softened the position, suggesting that Britain could stay in the single market under some circumstances.

It’s becoming clear that the Labour leadership and PLP are almost as split on this as the Tories, though the rank and file membership (including those who identify as Corbynites) are overwhelmingly anti-Brexit. It may not be an accident that just lately, the delusion of a “left exit” (or “Lexit”) from the EU has been canvassed in left of centre publications (here and here) and expertly demolished here.

But as well as the rank and file of the party, another powerful constituency has been horrified by Corbyn’s apparent capitulation to the ideas of a hard Brexit: the unions. The TUC remains committed to staying in the single market and customs union (even if it uses some dodgy arguments) as does the biggest pro- Corbyn’s union, Unite.

But the most outspoken (and perhaps, surprising) union attack on “Lexit” so far has come from Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA, a union that supports both Corbyn and Momentum. In an article on the New Statesman website, Cortes tears into the “Lexit delusion” and concludes by raising the possibility of Labour coming out against any kind of Brixit – soft or hard – and campaigning to stay in the EU:

“We don’t know yet what Brexit will look like. By the time the deal – or no deal – is finalised, almost three years will have passed since the vote to leave was made. That’s a lot longer than the Tory 2015 majority lasted. Let’s treat the voters as grown-ups not ideologues. If what’s on the table damages our livelihoods and/or is a simply a free trade deal in which the EU makes all the rules, why can’t we can’t change our minds?

“Voters want reality and honesty over delusion. That’s why it’s important that Labour keeps all options on the table. If as I suspect, staying within the EU is the best deal on offer in 2019, we should not deny voters the possibility of taking it. Jeremy’s past Euroscepticism, his vote against both the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties, actually makes him the best person to renegotiate a new future for Britain in the EU, not a Brexit deal which will harm the implementation of our manifesto and our vision of a People’s Europe.”

Cortes is to be congratulated for posing the issues so plainly, and for breaking an emerging  taboo within the labour movement: the idea that we might just campaign to overturn the referendum result.

(NB: and before anyone mentions it, none of this changes Shiraz‘s past criticisms of Cortes and the way he runs the TSSA)

  • Acknowledgements and thanks to Peter Ryley for an excellent piece that gave me some ideas for this post.

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Polish president’s veto a victory for demonstrators – and source of total confusion for Morning Star

July 25, 2017 at 5:22 pm (CPB, democracy, Europe, Jim D, Poland, protest, sectarianism, stalinism)

Polish president Duda’s decision to veto judicial changes that would have placed the country’s supreme court and judges under the control of the ultra-right wing ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) came as a big surprise. President Andrzej Duda was appointed by the leader of the PiS and has never before defied them over anything.

Concern remains that this may be only a short-term, tactical, retreat and the government may yet come back with slightly amended proposals that achieve their desired outcome – complete control of the courts and judiciary. But even so, this represents a major setback for the PiS and most of the credit must go to the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who held eight days of demonstrations against the proposed legislation. But the strong line taken by then EU undoubtedly also played a part, with a threat to strip Poland of its voting rights within the EU, and a warning from Donald Tusk that the proposals would lead to a “black scenario that could ultimately lead to the marginalisation of Poland in Europe” in this statement:  

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Row over Ex-Muslims at London Pride

July 17, 2017 at 8:48 pm (gay, Human rights, Islam, islamism, Jim D, LGBT, relativism, religion, secularism)

Today’s Morning Star carries an article citing “Muslim leaders” accusing the Council of Ex Muslims of Britain (CEMB) of inciting hatred against Muslims. The basis of the charge seems to be banners and placards carried by the CEMB contingent at the London Pride march, including “Allah is Gay” and “Fuck Islamic Homophobia.”

The M Star article quotes East London Mosque spokesman Salman Farsi saying “Our track record for challenging homophobia in East London is quite well known … For us to see such a mainstream event that is supposed to celebrate tolerance and love used as a hate platform is really quite shocking.” It has to be said, incidentally, that some people say the Mosque’s record on homophobia is “quite well known” for rather different reasons.

The M Star also quotes at some length “anti racist campaigner Maz Saleem”, whose comments to the paper are almost word-for-word what she wrote at the Counterfire website, criticising Pride organisers for having allowed CEMB to participate at all. Refering to Maryam Namazie, an Iranian-born leftist and one of the leaders of CEMB, Saleem says, “In an Islamophobic society this incident is not surprising. But Islamophobic attacks are at unprecedented levels. Pride organisers should have known better and stopped Namazie’s contingent from marching.”

Maz Saleem’s Counterfire piece concludes “Namazie’s motivation is to reinforce negative stereotypes of Islam and Muslims. We must resist.”

We reproduce below, the account that appeared on Maryam Namazie’s website:

Ex-Muslims Out Loud and Proud at Pride in London

On 8 July, CEMB was at Pride in London in full force highlighting the plight of LGBT in countries under Islamic rule with bodypainting by the award-winning Victoria Gugenheim.

The march went ahead as planned, though police initially tried to remove placards with the slogan “Allah is Gay” because of complaints of “offence”.

Whilst a few were not pleased to see apostates in Pride, we were met with overwhelming and heart-warming support and solidarity. For all of those who participated, it was an unforgettable moment in the struggle for freedom of conscience, expression and the fight for LGBT rights in countries under Islamic rule.

Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson for CEMB, said: “In a world where apostasy, blasphemy and ‘immorality’ are punishable by death in many Islamic states, and religiously non-prescribed sex and women’s bodies are so despised, it becomes all the more important to celebrate them and show very clearly that people have a right to think, live and love as they choose without state or group intervention and persecution. Of course some were and will be offended by our message as we are offended by Islam and religion but offence can never be a reason to silence and threaten nor is blasphemy and offence more important than murder.”

Daniel Fitzgerald, CEMB Pride organiser, said: “CEMB is challenging a narrative. Never before in the history of Pride London since its start in 1972 has a group consisting of those from a Muslim background, including refugees, come together to protest crimes committed to LGBT people in the name of Islam and topless too! These are VERY brave people who speak from direct experience. All states that have the death penalty for gays are Islamic, yet this alarming fact is ignored time and time again. No more excuses.”

Gita Sahgal, Director of Centre for Secular Space, said: “I marched with… extraordinary activists who keep alive the idea of international solidarity. In many countries Islamic law decrees the death penalty for homosexuality and sex outside marriage. On a very corporate march we kept alive the idea that refugees are welcome, apostasy is a right and that we weep for those under constant vigilante and state death threats. My wonderful young friend marched with a banner for Xulhaz hacked to death in Bangladesh for the right to love. In some places we cannot celebrate. We honour those struggles.”

  

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Bosnia genocide denial – then and now

July 12, 2017 at 7:51 pm (apologists and collaborators, Bosnia, capitulation, Chomsky, conspiracy theories, From the archives, genocide, grovelling, Guardian, Human rights, Jim D, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reformism, serbia, stalinism)

Jeremy Corbyn’s ill-advised choices of people to be seen associating with, continues:

It seems incredible that anyone should deny that the siege of Sarajevo happened or that it claimed the lives of thousands of people.

Yet Corbyn’s pizza-chomping companion Marcus Papadopoulos tweeted this in December of last year:

Corbyn’s weakness on foreign affairs, and especially the former Yugoslavia, can be ascribed to his general political primitivism and the influence of Stalinism on the Bennite reformist tradition he hails from (as well as the influence of the Stalinists now in his inner sanctum). In 2004, for instance, he signed an Early Day Motion backing crazed my-enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend conspiracy-theorist (once, long ago, a serious journalist) John Pilger  over Kosova.

Denying that Sarajevo was under siege, or that there was genocide at Srebrenica, remains frighteningly common on the Stalinist and Stalinist-influenced left and liberal-left, as this 2011 article by Michael Deibert makes clear:

With Ratko Mladic, predator and killer, now in custody, Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy and the others who have sought to deny justice to the victims of Bosnia’s killing fields should apologise to those victims for working so long to make the justice they sought less, not more, likely.


Mladic, Chomsky and Srebrenica: Time for an apology

By now the word that wanted war criminal Ratko Mladic has been arrested in Serbia has traveled around the globe. On the run for nearly 15 years, the former Bosnian Serb general accused of overseeing that massacre 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995 will face justice. But will the apologists for the violent Serbian expansion of the 1990s in the international community – the linguist and MIT professor Noam Chomsky chief among them – finally apologize to his many victims for seeking to scuttle their calls for justice all these years?

I first became aware of Chomsky’s, shall we say rather unorthodox, views of the Bosnian conflict in connection with a campaign he and his supporters launched against the talented young British journalist Emma Brockes, whose October 2005 interview with Mr. Chomsky in The Guardian caused a great deal of controversy. Among other tough questions, it asked about Chomsky’s relationship with what The Times (UK) columnist Oliver Kamm quite accurately described as “some rather unsavoury elements who wrote about the Balkan wars in the 1990s.”

The furor at the time centered around Ms. Brockes confronting Chomky with the fact that he had lent his name to a letter praising the “outstanding” (Chomsky’s own words) work of a journalist called Diana Johnstone. Johnstone’s 2002 book Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions (Pluto Press), argues that the July 1995 killing of at least 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces in Srebrenica was, in essence (directly quoting from her book), not a “part of a plan of genocide” and that “there is no evidence whatsoever” for such a charge. This despite the November 1995 indictment of Bosnian Serb leaders Mladic and Radovan Karadzic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for “genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war” stemming from that very episode and the later conviction by the same tribunal of a Bosnian Serb general of aiding and abetting genocide in Srebrenica.

Johnstone also states that no evidence exists that much more than 199 men and boys were killed there and that Srebrenica and other unfortunately misnamed ‘safe areas’ had in fact “served as Muslim military bases under UN protection.” In 2003, the Swedish magazine Ordfront published an interview with Johnstone where she reiterated these views. Chomsky was also among those who supported a campaign defending the right of a fringe magazine called Living Marxism to publish claims that footage the British television station ITN took in August 1992 at the Serb-run Trnopolje concentration camp in Bosnia was faked. ITN sued the magazine for libel and won, putting the magazine out of business, as Living Marxism could not produce a single witness who had seen the camps at first hand, whereas others who had – such as the journalist Ed Vulliamy – testified as to their horror.

In fact, as recently as April 25, 2006, in an interview with Radio Television of Serbia (a station formerly aligned with the murderous and now-deceased Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic), Chomsky stated, of the iconic, emaciated image of a Bosnian Muslim man named Fikret Alic, the following:

Chomsky: [I]f you look at the coverage [i.e. media coverage of earlier phases of the Balkan wars], for example there was one famous incident which has completely reshaped the Western opinion and that was the photograph of the thin man behind the barb-wire.

Interviewer: A fraudulent photograph, as it turned out.

Chomsky: You remember. The thin men behind the barb-wire so that was Auschwitz and ‘we can’t have Auschwitz again.’

In taking this position, Chomsky seemingly attempts to discredit the on-the-ground reporting of not only Mr. Vulliamy – whose reporting for the Guardian from the war in Bosnia won him the international reporter of the year award in 1993 and 1994 – but of other journalists such as Penny Marshall, Ian Williams and Roy Gutman. In fact, Vulliamy , who filed the first reports on the horrors of the Trnopolje camp and was there that day the ITN footage was filmed, wrote as follows in The Guardian in March 2000:

Living Marxism‘s attempts to re-write the history of the camps was motivated by the fact that in their heart of hearts, these people applauded those camps and sympathized with their cause and wished to see it triumph. That was the central and – in the final hour, the only – issue. Shame, then, on those fools, supporters of the pogrom, cynics and dilettantes who supported them, gave them credence and endorsed their vile enterprise.

In his interview with Brockes, Chomsky stated that “Ed Vulliamy is a very good journalist, but he happened to be caught up in a story which is probably not true.”

In a November 2005 column, Marko Attila Hoare, a Senior Research Fellow at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Kingston (London), wrote thusly:

An open letter to Ordfront, signed by Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy and others, stated: ‘We regard Johnstone’s Fools’ Crusade as an outstanding work, dissenting from the mainstream view but doing so by an appeal to fact and reason, in a great tradition.’ In his personal letter to Ordfront in defence of Johnstone, Chomsky wrote: ‘I have known her for many years, have read the book, and feel that it is quite serious and important.’ Chomsky makes no criticism here of Johnstone’s massacre denial, or indeed anywhere else – except in the Brockes interview, which he has repudiated. Indeed, he endorses her revisionism: in response to Mikael van Reis’s claim that ‘She [Johnstone] insists that Serb atrocities – ethnic cleansing, torture camps, mass executions – are western propaganda’, Chomsky replies that ‘Johnstone argues – and, in fact, clearly demonstrates – that a good deal of what has been charged has no basis in fact, and much of it is pure fabrication.’

Pretty astounding stuff, huh? But, faced with a relentless campaign by Mr. Chomsky and his supporters The Guardian, to its eternal shame, pulled Brockes’ interview from its website and issued what can only be described as a groveling apology that did a great disservice not only to Ms Brockes herself, but also to former Guardian correspondent Vulliamy and all those journalists who actually risked their lives covering the Bosnian conflict, to say nothing of the victims of the conflict themselves.

The caving-in focused on three points, the chief of which appeared to be the headline used on the interview, which read: “Q: Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated? A: My only regret is that I didn’t do it strongly enough.”

Though this was a paraphrase rather than a literal quotation, the fact of the matter was that it did seem to accurately sum up the state of affairs: Chomsky had actively supported Johnstone, who in turn had claimed that the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated and not part of a campaign of genocide. The Guardian brouhaha prompted, Kemal Pervanic, author of The Killing Days: My Journey Through the Bosnia War, and a survivor of the Omarska concentration camp, to write that “If Srebrenica has been a lie, then all the other Bosnian-Serb nationalists’ crimes in the three years before Srebrenica must be false too. Mr Chomsky has the audacity to claim that Living Marxism was “probably right” to claim the pictures ITN took on that fateful August afternoon in 1992 – a visit which has made it possible for me to be writing this letter 13 years later – were false. This is an insult not only to those who saved my life, but to survivors like myself.”

Chomsky complained about that, too, forcing The Guardian to write in its apology that, ignoring the fact that it was Chomsky’s characterization of the Serb-run camps that seemed to outrage Pervanic the most, “Prof Chomsky believes that publication (of Pervanic’s letter) was designed to undermine his position, and addressed a part of the interview which was false…With hindsight it is acknowledged that the juxtaposition has exacerbated Prof Chomsky’s complaint and that is regretted.”

So Emma Brockes (whom I have never met), in this instance, at least, was silenced.

But the history of what happened in the Balkan wars should not be so easily silenced and re-written. With Ratko Mladic, predator and killer, now in custody, Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy and the others who have sought to deny justice to the victims of Bosnia’s killing fields should apologize to those victims for working so long to make the justice they sought less, not more, likely.

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Taylor’s “feeble” report on gig economy

July 11, 2017 at 2:18 pm (Conseravative Party, Jim D, law, rights, TUC, workers)

Getty Images / Oli Scarff

Former Blair advisor Matthew Taylor’s review of the gig economy has disappointed just about everyone except the Tory government that commissioned it, and the gig economy bosses. Stephen Cavalier, the chief executive of Thompsons Solicitors said the recommendations of the review are “feeble and add another layer of unnecessary complexity”.

The review recommends that gig economy workers should get sick pay and holiday leave, but doesn’t recommend legislation banning zero-hours contracts. The review doesn’t advise workers be guaranteed minimum wage, though companies will be expected to show how workers could realistically earn at least 1.2 times the living wage of £7.50 an hour, for example by modelling the rate at which they must complete tasks to earn such pay.

The idea is that would-be workers can log into a platform and see “real-time earnings potential”. If they can’t reasonably earn a living wage with the work on offer, the report  proposes it should be up to the worker to decide whether they should take up the work or not — but that also means that companies will not be required to pay minimum wage to those who knowingly agree to take on work at less busy times.

Under these proposals, if a worker chooses to “log in” to work at a time when demand is low, they might not earn the minimum wage — although the gig company would have to use its real-time data to warn them in advance.

Taylor’s suggestions include a new category of worker called a “dependent contractor”, sitting between fully employed and self-employed status.

“The creation of a new ‘dependent contractor’ status for gig economy workers would further complicate existing categories of how workers are defined in law,” Cavalier said in response.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said on Twitter that we “don’t need new employment status.” She added: “Unions’ court victories prove many so-called self-employed are workers and should get the [minimum] wage.”

She added: “Platform firms are pleading special status but really the new tech is just hiding old-fashioned casualisation and exploitation.”

Estimates suggest as many as 1.1 million British people work in the so-called gig economy, with a report from MP Frank Field suggesting some delivery drivers are making less than £2.50 a hour. Field has previously accused gig economy companies from “free riding” on the welfare state, while the Bank of England has blamed the gig economy for wage stagnation and the Oxford Internet Institute has called for a fairtrade foundation for international gig workers.

Theresa May, who is launching the review is expected to say changes to gig economy companies will avoid “overbearing regulation”. The Guardian reported May will say: “At its best, a job can be a genuine vocation, providing the means to intellectual and personal fulfilment, as well as economic security”.

Gig economy firms have argued frontline workers — such as drivers and couriers — are self-employed, but last year a tribunal ruled that Uber’s drivers aren’t self-employed and should earn minimum wage.

The weakness of Taylor’s proposals should not come as a surprise. He told a TUC event in London last month that (on the basis of undisclosed evidence) “up to three out of four workers” wanted flexible arrangements and changing that was the “last thing we should do”. He went on to say that the UK’s flexible job market was a something other countries envied.

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