By John Cunningham (this article also appears in Solidarity and at the Workers Liberty website)
Although I’ve never had had warm feelings towards the media, I also dislike the tendency to blame the media for every ill or woe in the world; it just doesn’t work like that. The media isn’t all bad all the time.
Personally, I have regularly turned to the journalism of people like Andrew Rawnsley, Nick Cohen, Polly Toynbee, John Harris and others, not because I agree with them (this rarely happens) but because of a desire to read some occasionally intelligent — or moderately intelligent — viewpoints put forward in a clear and articulate manner. However, within the last year or so, the commentaries and analysis coming out of even the middle-ground “liberal” press has descended to unprecedented levels of odious bile which has little, if any, connection with reality. They have descended in a very short time to “a superficial and dismal swamp” (to paraphrase Frederick Engels).
At times the abuse has been astonishing. Increasingly it is directed not just at Corbyn but also at his supporters, often referred to, in the most childish manner, as “Corbynistas” or “Corbynites” as if somehow, those supporting Corbyn were the followers of a boy band or, as alluded to on occasion, attendees at a Nuremburg rally.
A list of these abuses, insults and smears would make lengthy — and dismal — reading; so here are just a few examples from a variety of sources: Polly Toynbee (Guardian 18 July) claimed that the “incomers” [to the Labour Party] are “fronted by a small handful of wreckers armed with political knuckledusters.” Also from Toynbee we have her measured description of Corbyn as “dismal, lifeless, spineless…” (Guardian 25 June). Carole Malone (Daily Mirror 16 July): Corbyn supporters are “Lenin style bully boys who’d send women to the Gulag.” John Harris (Guardian 12 August) deserves a special mention for his article entitled “If Trotsky is back at the centre of things, there’s chaos ahead”, which not only raises infantilism to an art form but contains an “explanation” of Trotsky’s notion of transitional demands which is so laughable that it wouldn’t pass muster in a third rate pub quiz.
Probably the worst example, so far, that I have come across is worth quoting at more length: Nick Cohen (Observer, 31 July) “…after the killing of Jo Cox by an alleged right wing extremist, Angela Eagle and Jess Phillips and all the other anti-Corbyn MPs who are speaking out know that the death and rape threats from left-wing extremists may not just be bluster.” There you have it — if you are a Corbyn supporter you are (a) automatically a “left-wing extremist” and (b) a potential rapist and/or murderer!
I wrote to the Readers’ Editor of the Observer pointing out this slander. Initially, he did not respond but after a second e-mail merely drew my attention to an article by Cohen in the Spectator and remarked that he obviously wasn’t talking about people like me! While I am mightily relieved that the Observer’s Readers’ Editor thinks I am a decent sort, what, might I ask about all the other thousands of Labour members who will be voting for Corbyn, murdering and raping all the way to the ballot box? A third e-mail from me calling for an apology drew no response at all (surprise, surprise). What is it that drives journalists like Cohen and Toynbee, who are by no means stupid people, to descend into this gutter? After all, life for the Cohens and Toynbees of this world will not be drastically altered by the continuance of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, nor would life be suddenly rosier if, by some Potterish intervention, Owen Smith were to win.
Toynbee has already shown her propensity for jumping ship if things don’t go her way. My guess is that for the educated snobs of this liberal and not-so-liberal commentariat the thread that binds them together is a sense of elitism, a dislike, a repugnance of ordinary people doing things for themselves. It is, more-or-less, the same elitism, the same distrust of the masses, that drove some of the early socialists like Charles Fourier and Saint Simon to condemn the emerging trade unions, while slightly later the Webbs and the Fabians were to embrace similar ideas about the untrustworthiness of ordinary workers.
This trend dominated the Parliamentary Labour Party for years and it manifests itself, for example, in the way that routinely, throughout the history of the Party, conference resolutions have been ignored if the Party leadership didn’t agree with them. Whether we are talking about Tony Blair, Ramsey MacDonald, Hugh Gaitskell, Polly Toynbee, Anne Perkins, Nick Cohen or ex-Stalinists such as the Times journalist David Aronovich; the approach is top-down, “we know best and if you don’t agree with us shut up or bugger-off”.
Clearly, the wisdom of these sages is being ignored, sometimes by the very people who would normally listen to them… and they don’t like it one bit; hence a peevish and prolonged bout of name-calling and the sneering dismissal of thousands of ordinary people who are making their voices heard and trying to shape a new political agenda. In short they sound like nothing but spoilt schoolchildren who have had their ball taken away.
In any other place in the world the massive increase in Labour Party membership would be shouted from the rooftops. No Social Democratic party in history, with the possible exception of the pre-First World War German Social Democratic party, has seen such exceptional growth. Yet the newcomers are cast in the role of the biblical Gadarene swine, rushing headlong to a certain death while the comfy, smug, complacent ladies and gentlemen of the press tut-tut their displeasure. As a certain London-based political exile of Jewish origin once remarked, “…they confess they are striving to replace the old aristocracy with a new one. To counter the existing oligarchy they would like to speak in the name of the people, but at the same time avoid having the people appear in their own person when their name is called.”
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I’m not Owen Jones’s biggest fan, but on this occasion I can completely understand his anger and frustration at the refusal of Sky News presenter Mark Longhurst to recognise this as a homophobic attack. Longhurst told him “you cannot say this is a worse attack than what happened in Paris”, which Jones did not say. Eventually, Jones walked out, and good for him:
The US Socialist Worker (no longer related to the UK organisation/paper of the same name) at least makes an attempt at a serious analysis, but is not entirely coherent and verges, towards the end, on a version of “blow-back”.
Donald Trump is all too predictable … and loathsome.
Owen Jones explains himself at greater length here
Leave.EU has wasted no time in cashing in:
The letter below appears in today’s Morning Star. The author, Mary Davis, is Professor of Labour History at London Metropolitan University, a former member of the University and College Union national executive and the TUC women’s committee. She is also a member of the Communist Party of Britain’s executive committee and the party’s national women’s organiser:
Dodgy Livingstone has no place in the Star
I AM writing to protest against the decision to give Ken Livingstone a regular column in the Morning Star (May 28).
I think that at the present time this is a very impolitic move on the part of the Star in view of Livingstone’s suspension from the Labour Party and Shami Chakrabarti’s inquiry into anti-semitism.
I do not know anyone who approves of Livingstone’s “Hitler supported Zionism” remarks (repeated at least twice and based on Lenni Brenner’s spurious and ahistorical evidence).
This doesn’t mean that I support John Mann’s outrageous tactics; but the issue is important in itself and one to which our paper should show great sensitivity in view of our alleged opposition to anti-semitism.
It would appear judging from his opening comments in last weekend’s paper, that Livingstone is grateful to our paper as being the only voice on the left open to him.
How will this go down among our friends on the Labour left? (I certainly do not regard the entire Labour Party as anti-semitic — the Tories win the accolade for this).
It is thus hugely embarrassing on our paper’s part to offer Livingstone this lifeline at the present moment and serves to muddy the waters among our allies while at the same time detracting from our own stated opposition to anti-semitism.
Livingstone has not been a friend of this paper in the past. He and the group supporting him did not support former Star editor John Haylett when he was wrongly sacked and furthermore he has a chequered history of making injudicious comments bordering on the anti-semitic.
I, as a communist and a Jew, am personally affronted by the privileged treatment he is receiving. I can only hope the decision to offer him a column will be reversed.
Muhammad Ali has lost his last fight, but he went down with the courage that characterised his entire life. He is now mourned and celebrated as the athlete of the century and a hero by the media and politicians in the United States and throughout the world – very often the same people who in the 1960s and ’70s villified him for his opposition to the Vietnam war and for his radical black politics. He died a celebrity, and he richly deserved his fame. But it is a bad habit of our age merely to celebrate celebrity.The late Mike Marqusee‘s Redemption Song (Verso, 1999) is by far the best book dealing with Ali’s social and political significance. Marquesee wrote:
We should look at how his celebrity was established and what it means. And I do not believe that his fame rests only on what he achieved in the ring – although if you are a sports fan you have to be awed by that. More important was what he achieved outside the ring.
We must re-insert Ali in his historical context, and that means principally his relationship to the great social movements of the 1960s. The young Cassius Clay was very much a typical patriotic, Cold War chauvinist. Representing the US in the Rome Olympics of 1960, at the age of 18, he won a gold medal in the Light Heavyweight division. And to commemorate the victory he published his first poem:
To make America the greatest is my goal,
So I beat the Russian, and I beat the Pole.
And for the USA I won the medal of Gold.
A crude start for someone who would travel a long way in the next few years. The key to understanding Ali’s movement away from this unexamined national chauvinism is the impact of the civil rights movement of the first half of the 1960s. In the years between 1960 and 1965, hundreds of thousands of young black people from precisely Muhammad Ali’s background – from working class homes in Southern American cities – took to the streets to challenge Jim Crow, America’s version of Apartheid, and to challenge a century of institutionalised racism of a type we can barely imagine today.
At one point it was estimated that 60% of all black college students from across the South were directly involved in this mass movement. And a terrible price was paid – some were murdered, many were beaten, huge numbers were arrested. It was one of the great battles of our era. Ali was driven by the same social forces which drove his contemporaries into the streets; but he was driven in a different direction. His response to all-pervasive racism was different because – after his Olympic triumph – he met the Nation of Islam (NoI) in the streets of Miami.
Over the next few years, as a promising Heavyweight contender, travelling around the country, fighting his way up the ladder, looking for a title shot, he met many more Muslims. Most famously he met Malcolm X and formed a friendship with him. Through the NoI, this young, quite uneducated man encountered the tradition of black nationalism whose origins go back to the beginnings of the twentieth century and which flourished under Marcus Garvey. Black nationalism had enjoyed a kind of underground existence up to this point and when Cassius Clay encountered the NoI in the early ’60s it was the longest standing, wealthiest, best-organised black nationalist organisation in America (albeit a nationalism of a peculiar kind). Clay kept his interest in the NoI secret – if it had become public he would never have become the Heavyweight champion, he would never have had a chance to face Sonny Liston in the ring and we would not be discussing him today.
He got a title shot in 1964, in Miami, against Liston, who was said to be unbeatable. To the world’s surprise, at the age of 22, Cassius Clay did beat Sonny Liston and became the World Heavyweight champion. Instead of going to a big party at a luxury downtown hotel, as was expected of newly-crowned champions, Cassius Clay went back to the black motel, in the black area of Miami – at that time, effectively a segregated city – and had a quiet evening, without any drink, discussing what he would do with the title he had just won, with his friends, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, the great gospel and R&B singer, and Jim Brown, a famous US football player who later became an actor. The next morning, after these discussions, Cassius Clay met the press – which in those days was exclusively white and male – and told them, “I don’t have to be what you want me to be, I’m free to be what I want.” In retrospect that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but, at the time it was earthshaking. Firstly because sportstars, and particularly young black sportstars, were expected to be what they were told to be; secondly because what Cassius Clay wanted to be was a public member of the NoI – probably the most reviled organisation in America at the time. And at his side was Malcolm X – probably the most reviled individual in the US at the time. In announcing his embrace of the NoI Cassius Clay was repudiating Christianity, in a predominately Christian country, at a time when Islam was an exotic and little know faith in America. He was repudiating the integrationist racial agenda, in favour of a separatist agenda, at a time when the Civil Rights movement, led by Martin Luther King, for whom “integrationism” was a central shibboleth, was at the height of its prestige and power. So Cassius Clay angered both the white and the black liberals – and, most importantly, he was repudiating his American national identity in favour of another national identity, that of a member of the Nation of Islam, a nation whose borders had nothing to do with the borders of the US.
Up till this time, no black sports star or celebrity had attempted to do or say anything like this without being crushed – as had Paul Robeson and WEB DuBois in an earlier generation. This stand was widely seen as a terrible tragedy for the young fighter. After all, he had the world at his feet and here he was, embracing an unpopular cause, thereby narrowing down his appeal. Or so it was thought. The reality is that by joining the NoI and redefining who he was, Clay was walking into a new world – ultimately presenting himself to an international constituency – which changed what he meant to people all over the world and which changed his destiny inside and outside the ring.
Shortly after the fight he went to New York and was seen everywhere with Malcolm X. But only a week later Malcolm X announced his departure from the NoI, his famous break with Elija Muhammad. Ali chose to stick with the NoI, and renounced his friendship with Malcolm. Why Cassius Clay did this is an interesting question. Malcolm was moving in a more political direction, away from the conservative and quietistic side of the NoI, towards a direct battle against racism. Ali – who had just been renamed as Ali by Elija Muhammad – was looking for a refuge from racism, and that was what he had found in the NoI. Ali was, ironically, trying to avoid political engagement by sticking to close to the NoI and staying away from Malcolm.
But the 1960s did not allow Ali the luxury of avoiding politics. As the years went by he was drawn deeper into political controversy. Ali went to Africa in 1964, at a time when no American sportstar – of any colour – had even noticed that continent’s existence. He went to Ghana where he was greeted by the President, Kwame Nkrumah, famous anti-colonialist and founder Pan African movement. Nkrumah was the first head of state to shake Ali’s hand. It was to be another eleven years before a US President would deign to shake Ali’s hand (since then, of course, they all want to shake his hand). In Ghana tens of thousands poured out to welcome Ali. They chanted his new name. Observers on this trip say that this was the moment Cassius Clay really became Muhammad Ali. Why did so many Ghanaians came to greet him – after all very few spoke English, almost none had access to a television? Why did they come to see Ali? First, boxing was popular there.
The Heavyweight championship of the world was a pretty transparent idea and people were pleased that such an eminent figure had recognised their newly independent country. More importantly, Ali was a an African American world champ who had repudiated his American identity and taken on an Islamic name and embraced his African patrimony. The Ghanaian masses knew that this was something new and exciting. They understood the meaning of this transformation long before it became apparent to American commentators.
The impact of this trip on Ali was tremendous. It was during this trip that Ali came to understand that he was accountable to a broader, international constituency, a constituency of the oppressed, and this new sense of accountability was to guide him over the next turbulent decade.
The test of his new identity came over Vietnam. By early 1966, the US was finding it difficult to impose its will on the Vietnamese and the draft call was expanded; the Heavyweight champion of the world was reclassified as 1A, eligible for military service. Ali was told the news at a training camp in Miami and, badgered all day by the press, he came out with the line: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.” It may have been a spontaneous remark, but he stuck to it over the following years and even turned it into a poem:
Keep asking me, no matter how long,
On the war in Vietnam, I’ll still sing this song:
I ain’t got no quarrel with no Viet Cong.
At the time the critics asked: what does Muhammad Ali know about Vietnam? Read the rest of this entry »
By Champagne Charlie
Last Friday’s Guardian carried a piece by Education editor Richard Adams headlined “Ofsted Inspectors upgrade Birmingham school in ‘Trojan horse’ scandal to good”.
The piece begins “The school at the centre of the Trojan horse scandal has been given a clean bill of health by Ofsted inspectors, two years after allegations of an Islamist plot to infiltrate education made national headlines.”
The inattentive reader could be forgiven for thinking that it has now been shown that there was no Islamist plot and the allegations against senior teachers and governors at the school have been disproven. It is only when you read on, that it becomes apparent that Adams is writing about the school as it now is, under a new leadership team, the previous Islamist leadership having been removed. Even so, Adams feels it necessary to throw in one of his typical weaselling half-truths: “allegations of a city-wide plot were never substantiated and are thought to be a hoax.”
It’s time the facts of the ‘Trojan Horse’ affair that have been established beyond reasonable doubt (sources can be checked on Wikepedia, from which I’ve drawn extensively) were set out clearly, if only to counter the torrent of downright lies, half-truths and obfuscation that continues to emanate from Mr Adams, the SWP and elements within the NUT.
The ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ letter was leaked to the press in early March 2014. It is an anonymous document, purporting to be from an Islamist in Birmingham, advising a fellow Islamist in Bradford, on how to take over schools and impose an Islamist agenda. Early on, most informed commentators expressed the opinion that the letter was probably a fake, created by someone who wished to draw attention to alleged Islamist influence in Birmingham schools.
The author of the letter claimed responsibility for installing new headteachers at four schools in Birmingham, and identified 12 others in the city which would be easy targets due to large Muslim attendance and poor inspection reports. It suggests encouraging parents to complain about a school’s leadership with accusations of sex education, forced Christian prayer and mixed physical education, with the aim of obtaining a new, Islamist, leadership. It was also suggested that once successfully taken over, schools should apply for Academy status so as to have a curriculum independent of the Local Education Authority. The author described the plan as “totally invisible to the naked eye and [allowing] us to operate under the radar”.
Despite widespread doubts about the provenance of the letter, Birmingham’s education commissioner Sir Mike Tomlinson stated his belief that what the letter described was happening “without a shadow of doubt”. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: from the Guardian’s front page today
The ‘Panama Papers’ is without doubt the biggest and most important story (so far) of the century, and Shiraz will be keeping a sharp eye, in particular, on how Putin’s fans and apologists on the supposed “left” deal with it. The Mossack Fonseca documents were initially passed to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The fact is that the Guardian is just one among 109 media organisations in 76 countries that have helped break the story – which makes this message from Deputy Editor Paul Johnson a bit of a damn cheek. I don’t think I’ll be sending them any money just yet:
The “Panama Papers” is the biggest leak in history: 11.5m documents – which would take one person 27 years to read – describing in the finest detail, for the first time, how rivers of money are moved around the world, hidden from sight by secret offshore banking operations.
The scale of the story is staggering: inside those papers 113,000 shell companies were discovered – helping hundreds of national leaders, politicians, celebrities and business people hide their money.
If the scale of the leak was enormous, the journalistic effort to bring it to full exposure was just as big: 370 journalists from 70 different countries worked in an unprecedented scale of co-operation. At the Guardian, we had five journalists dedicated to the investigation for six months, in conditions of tight secrecy, working through the dozens of stories and an exhaustive legal process.
Readers can support such journalism by making a financial contribution to the Guardian. Make a contribution here.
Today’s investigation has created a much-needed worldwide debate about tax and fairness. There are another four days of stories to come. We think they are of vital public importance. We hope you agree.
Thank you for your support and for reading the Guardian.
Deputy Editor, Guardian News and Media
Battle of Britain commemoration, St Paul’s; outrageous disrespect:
Nelson Mandela’s funeral; highly respectful:
Maajid Nawaz, of the Quilliam Foundation, has clinically dissected the Grauniad‘s dishonest hatchet-job on himself (a supposed “interview” by one David Shariatmadari published in yesterday’s G2: Maajid Nawaz: how a former Islamist became David Cameron’s anti-extremism adviser):
My reply to Mr Shariatmadari of the Guardian:
Dear Mr Shariatmadari, I do wonder what exactly about me made you feel so insecure?
Anyway, below are some reflections of mine, and a bit of fact-checking for you, on your rather personalised hatchet-job of me in the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/…/maajid-nawaz-how-a-former-isla…
1) Concerning your passage:
“…If much of Quilliam’s – and now Cameron’s – positioning reflects Nawaz’s own journey, it’s reasonable to ask how representative his experience has been. Hizb-ut Tahrir, which does not advocate violence, sees the creation of a new caliphate as the solution to the Muslim world’s problems.”
Unfortunately, as has become a habit with your paper, you are too soft on Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) here. It is true that HT does not advocate terrorism. However it is not true that it does not advocate violence. All terrorism is violent, but not all violence is terrorism.
HT’s aims to come to power via military coups, these are inherently violent, even if non-terrorist, acts.
“(This would) normally be done by the Party seeking to access the military in order to take the authority…After this the military would be capable of establishing the authority of Islam. Hence a coup d’etat would be the manifestation of a political change…” (The Method to Re-establish the Caliphate and Resume the Islamic Way of Life’, Members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain [al-Khilāfah Publications], pp. 105-6.)
Once in power, pretty much like ISIS, which is a group HT’s ideology played a large part in inspiring, HT advocates the use of state orchestrated massacres to further its aims.
“Hence, it is imperative to to put back this issue in its rightful place and consider it to be a vital issue, by killing every apostate even if they numbered millions”. (Abdul Qadeem Zalloom [2nd global leader for HT], How the Caliphate Was Destroyed, Khilafah Publications, p.193)
2) Concerning your passage:
“Nawaz’s powers of verbal persuasion are something even his detractors concede. There’s a strong line to take in every answer. But equally, there’s very little sense of being open to persuasion himself.”
Indeed, I must be very unopen to persuasion. This must be why – despite the fact that it cost me my marriage, proper access to my son, my home and most of my friendships – I changed my mind after nearly 13 years inside HT’s leadership, and I left that group.
3) Concerning your passage:
“Perhaps this is the Hizb-ut-Tahrir training at work, a training he says involved sitting in meetings “concocting rebuttals as defensive mechanisms’.” Read the rest of this entry »
For the record, I’m not sure what to make of this, or how significant it is – JD.
From Political Scrapbook:
The Daily Express appear to have deleted a story suggesting that 1.5 million British Muslims support terror group Islamic State — based on polling which apparently did not ask respondents their religion or state clearly that ISIS was a terror group.
The headline for the online version was …
“Half of British Muslims ‘support ISIS’ as fears grow over influence of terror group”
… with the strapline:
“HALF of Britain’s three million Muslims could support the Islamic State terror group, a shocking new survey has revealed.”
While Scrapbook cannot locate the new polling, the 2014 ICM survey on behalf of Russian news agency Rossiya Segodnya only asked a single question about ISIS — which used a formulation recently condemned precisely because it conflates the beheading enthusiasts with a legitimate nation state:
“From what you know, please, tell me if you have a very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable opinion of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant otherwise known as ISIS?
While the piece is still available in search engine caches, visitors to the original link are now greeted with ‘Page Missing Mystery’:
What is more of a mystery is how the Express can justify such a headline.
Paul Canning reports:
When CNN International reporter Lucy Pawle stepped out of a store in London’s West End she could not believe what she was seeing. As a dutiful journo, she got out her phone and snapped away then placed a call to her station. Shortly after she was on the air breathlessly reporting her find; a black ISIS flag was on the London Gay Pride Parade! And no one seemed to have noticed!
Not being a mug, not at all, Pawle wondered if it might be that British sense of humour she’d heard so much about as the lettering appeared to be “gobbledygook”.
The CNN anchor then brought on the ‘security expert’ Peter Bergen who pondered why an ISIS flag would be there when the group hurls gays off buildings.
Pawle should have looked closer. No, scratch that, she should have used her brain. No, scratch that, her editor and the anchor and the ‘security expert’ all need eye tests.
The flag is a parody with the ‘lettering’ being images of dildos and other sex toys. I have no idea who made it and what they were trying to say (will update if I find out) but I can guess. I think they were trying to say FU to ISIS.
About an hour after the report went out and Pawle had started to get laughed at on Twitter the video got taken down by CNN, but Mediate have a copy.
Personally I think the flag parody looks hilarious and I guess that those who saw it did too since no one appears to be complaining. But I can see how some might think it disrespectful or something.
What do you think?
Edit: The artist behind the flag has now been tracked down. The non-anonymous Paul Coombes told PinkNews “the flag of ‘Dildosis’, a conceptual organisation he has set up as a counterpoint to ISIS, established for the advancement of an ecstatic state”.
More about the very brave Coombes at his website http://www.paulcoombs.co.uk/
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