The death yesterday of Robert Conquest, author of The Great Terror, reminds us of the pathetic attempt by public school Stalinist hack Seumas Mine to challenge Conquest’s facts about the death-toll brought about by Stalinism.
The following article by Milne, written shortly before the final collapse of the USSR, appeared in the Guardian of March 10 1990. Until we republished it here at Shiraz (29 September 2012) it was not available anywhere else online, nor is it included in the 2012 book, wonderfully entitled The Revenge of History, made up of the “cream” of Milne’s Guardian columns. Conquest was a right-winger and virulent anti-communist: but he was an objective and thoroughly scupulous historian. Milne’s desperate attempt to challenge Conquest’s estimated death-toll (later verified as substantially correct when the Soviet archives were fully opened in 1991) is, perversely, a tribute to an honest man:
In the preface to the 40th anniversary edition of his pioneering work, The Great Terror (first published in 1968) Conquest stated that in the light of documents released since 1991 from the Presidential, State, Party and Police archives, and the declassification by Russia’s Federal Security Service of some 2 million secret documents:
“Exact numbers may never be known with complete certainty, but the total of deaths caused by the whole range of Soviet regime’s terrors can hardly be lower than some thirteen to fifteen million.”
From THE GUARDIAN Saturday March 10 1990
The figure of 25 million deaths that is being attributed to the Stalin regime should be revised in the light of glasnost reports. Seumas Milne analyses new Soviet data that records much lower gulag populations
Stalin’s missing millions
All over South-east of England billboards have appeared in the past week declaring: “Once upon a time there was an uncle who murdered 25 million of his children.” Next to this startling slogan is a photograph of the man who was the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union for a generation, hugging an Aryan-looking Young Pioneer with pigtails.
The advertisement is a trailer for Thames Television’s block-buster documentary series on the life of Stalin, which begins on Tuesday. Forthcoming press publicity will follow a similar theme, setting out the kind of absurdities which could have led to arrest and execution at the height of the Soviet Terror in the late 1930’s.
The programmes come as glasnost has provoked a stream of new information and memoirs about the Stalin era in the Soviet Union itself, 30 years after Khruschev’s secret speech denouncing his former boss led to the first phase of revelations and rehabilitations. For the most part attention in the Soviet media has turned to more pressing problems. But the flood of new horror stories has emboldened an academic and political current which is bent on overturning the consensus view of Hitler and Nazism as the supreme evil of 20th century history.
Not only is it increasingly common for Stalin to be bracketed with Hitler as the twin monster of the modern era, even in the Soviet Union, but in West Germany and Austria a significant “revisionist” academic trend — represented by historians like Ernst Nolte, Andreas Hilgruber, and Ernst Topitsch — goes on to argue that the Stalinist system was actually responsible for the Nazis and the second world war.
Central to these debates is the issue of the number of Stalin’s victims. Controversy about the scale of repression in the Stalin era has rumbled on in Western universities for many years, and has now been joined by Soviet experts who are equally divided. Thames Television, with its 25 million deaths, has opted for the furthest extreme.
Hitherto, the British writer Robert Conquest who in the 1950’s worked for the Foreign Office propaganda outfit IRD, led the field with his view that Stalin was responsible for 20 million deaths. Phillip Whitehead, one of the Stalin series producers, says he is not to blame for the advertising campaign but thinks a 25 million figure can be defended if the Soviet dead in the first three months of the Nazi invasion of 1941 are included on the grounds of Stalin’s negligence.
But even that is not enough for Thomas Methuen, publishers of of the companion book to the series, who bid up the figure to 30 million in their publicity and — in an echo of the German revisionists — describe Stalin as “the greatest mass killer of the 20th century.” The record estimate so far has been 50 million, made in the Sunday Times two years nago.
There are three basic catagories of people usually regarded as Stalin’s victims: first there are those executed for political offences, most of whom died in the Terror years of 1937-8. Then there are those who died in the labour camps or in the process of mass deportations. Finally — and almost certainly the biggest number — there are the peasants who died during the famine of the early 30s.
In the complete absence of any hard evidence from the Soviet Union, estimates for a grand total of all three have been made by extrapolating the number of “excess deaths” from census figures. This process is fraught with statistical problems, including the fact that the 1937 census was supported, and the 1939 census is thought to have been artificially inflated by terrified Soviet statisticians.. Add to that disputes about the size of peasant families and the possibilities for discrepancies multiply.
Among Soviet specialists and demographers in the West, the majority view appears to be that the kind of numbers used by Robert Conquest and his supporters are wildly exaggerated. Prof Sheila Fitzpatrick, of Chicago University comments: “the younger generation of Soviet historians tend to go for far lower numbers. There is no basis in fact for Conquest’s claims.”
Some of the most recent Western demographic analysis, by Barbera Anderson and Brian Silver in the US, estimates that the most likely figure for all the “excess” deaths — whether from purges, famine or deportations — between 1926 and 1939 lies in a range with a median of 3.5 million, and a limit of eight million.
Estimates of that order have found support across a broad range of academic work, from Frank Lorrimer’s pioneering post-war analysis to Prof Jerry Hough’s 1979 study to the 1980s research by the British academic, Stephen Wheatcroft, now at the University of Melbourne. But this growing consensus has been thrown on the defensive by Soviet specialists like Roy Medvedev, who — using the same data — have apparently backed Conquest’s position, or something like it.
When it comes to the famine deaths, an exact figure will almost certainly never be known. But suddenly, after years of working in the dark, specialists are obtainingv some hard Soviet data. Last month, the KGB published for the first time the records of the number of victims of the Stalin purges.
Between 1930 and 1953, the report states, 3,778,234 people had been sentenced for counter-revolutionary activities or anti-state crimes,of whom 786,098 were shot. From his office at the Hoover Institute in California yesterday, Conquest said it was difficult to say whether the figures were right, but he thought “they could be true.”
Even more remarkably, the records originally made by the NKVD (forerunner of the KGB) of those held in labour camps and penal colonies during the Stalin years are now becoming available. An article from a “restricted access” Soviet Interior Ministry journal has been passed to the Guardian, which lists the total Gulag populations during the 1930s and 1940s.
Originally collated for Khrushchev in the 1950s, the figures show how the camp numbers rose relentlessly from 179,000 in 1930 to 510,307 in 1934, to 1,296,494 in 1936, to 1,881,570 in 1938 at the height of the Terror. The population fell during the war, but reached its peak in 1950 when 2,561,351 people are recorded as detained in camps or colonies.
These figures published openly here for the first time are huge: but they are a long way from the 19 million camp population estimated by Robert Conquest. The Soviet report records that an average of 200,000 were released every year, and puts the death-rate in the camps at 3 per cent a year per on average, rising to more than 5 per cent in 1937-8. The camps were mostly emptied of political prisoners after Stalin’s death.
Are the figures credible? In the context of the current political atmosphere in the Soviet Union and the fact that they were in a restricted publication, it seems improbable that they have been tampered with. Of course, they do not cover the famine and other disasters. But they do begin to add credence to the mainstream academic view that the deaths attributable to Stalin’s policies was closer to 3.5 million than 25 million.
Why do numbers matter anyway? After all Robert Conquest may be out by a factor of five or 10, but the repressions were still enormous.
If, however, a figure of 20 million or 25 million becomes current currency, it adds credence to the Stalin-Hitler comparison. Already, anyone who questions these figures — even in the academic debates — is denounced as a “neo-Stalinist.”
As the Irish writer Alexander Cockburn who started what turned into a highly emotional exchange last year in the American journal, the Nation, puts it: “Any computation that does not soar past 10 million is somehow taken as being soft on Stalin.” And by minimising the quantitative gulf between the Hitler and Stalin killings, it becomes easier to skate over the uniqueness of the Nazi genocide and war.
JD adds: This last comment (“it becomes easier to skate over the uniqueness of the Nazi genocide and war”), suggesting that Conquest’s aim was to down-play Nazi genocide, is a simply despicable piece of Stalinist guilt-by-innuendo against Conquest, a proven and consistent anti fascist (which is more than can be said for the tradition Seumas belongs to). It demonstrates just how well the contemptible Milne has leaned from the filthy, lying methodology of Stalinism.
This Chart Shows the Staggering Human Cost of Staging a World Cup in Qatar
The US Department of Justice has dropped the hammer on FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, indicting nine senior FIFA officials and five sports marketing execs on charges of corruption, wire fraud, racketeering, and money laundering.
Allegations of bribery have long plagued FIFA, especially since its controversial decision to grant Qatar the 2022 World Cup. But much worse is the plight of South Asian migrant workers brought in to build the stadium infrastructure there: Since 2010, more than 1,200 migrant workers have died in Qatar under hazardous working conditions, and a 2013 Guardian investigation found that at least 4,000 total are projected to die before the 2022 World Cup even starts. And as we reported yesterday, Nepali workers weren’t even allowed to return home after the country’s recent devastating earthquake.
Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Post put that toll in perspective in a striking infographic. He compared the number of workers who died in the run-up to several Olympics and World Cups with the number of those who have died in Qatar so far. It’s horrifying:
Christopher Ingraham/Washington Post
Re-blogged from Tendance Coatesy (very slightly edited):
Loved by all Progressive Humanity: hacked to Death by Islamists.
Ananta Bijoy Das: Yet another Bangladeshi blogger hacked to death.
(CNN)Attacks on bloggers critical of Islam have taken on a disturbing regularity in Bangladesh, with yet another writer hacked to death Tuesday.
Ananta Bijoy Das, 32, was killed Tuesday morning as he left his home on his way to work at a bank, police in the northeastern Bangladeshi city of Sylhet said.
Four masked men attacked him, hacking him to death with cleavers and machetes, said Sylhet Metropolitan Police Commissioner Kamrul Ahsan.
The men then ran away. Because of the time of the morning when the attack happened, there were few witnesses. But police say they are following up on interviewing the few people who saw the incident.
“It’s one after another after another,” said Imran Sarker, who heads the Blogger and Online Activists Network in Bangladesh. “It’s the same scenario again and again. It’s very troubling.”
Das’ death was at least the third this year of someone who was killed for online posts critical of Islam. In each case, the attacks were carried out publicly on city streets.
In March, Washiqur Rahman, 27, was hacked to death by two men with knives and meat cleavers just outside his house as he headed to work at a travel agency in the capital, Dhaka.
The three victims are hardly the only ones who have paid a steep price for their views.
In the last two years, several bloggers have died, either murdered or under mysterious circumstances.
Das was an atheist who contributed to Mukto Mona (“Free Thinkers”), the blog that Roy founded.
Mukto Mona contains sections titled “Science” and “Rationalism,” and most of the articles hold science up to religion as a litmus test, which it invariably fails.
While Das was critical of fundamentalism and the attacks on secular thinkers, he was mostly concerned with championing science, a fellow blogger said.
He was the editor of a local science magazine, Jukti (“Reason”), and wrote several books, including one work on Charles Darwin.
In 2006, the blog awarded Das its Rationalist Award for his “deep and courageous interest in spreading secular & humanist ideals and messages in a place which is not only remote, but doesn’t have even a handful of rationalists.”
“He was a voice of social resistance; he was an activist,” said Sarker. “And now, he too has been silenced.”
Taking to the streets
Soon after Das’ death, his Facebook wall was flooded with messages of shock and condolence. And hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Sylhet demanding that the government bring his killers to justice.
“We’ve heard from Ananta’s friends that some people threatened to kill him as he was critical of religion,” Das’ brother-in-law Somor Bijoy Shee Shekhor said.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
“We are ashamed, brother Bijoy,” someone posted on Das’ Facebook page.
“Is a human life worth so little? Do we not have the right to live without fear?” wrote another.
The beloved comrade will be remembered by all humanity.
Above: the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp after bombing by Assad’s forces
About 200,000 Palestinians lived in the Yarmouk camp in a suburb of Damascus for more than 50 years. They were once held up as a symbol of Syrian support for the Palestinian cause, but when Syrian opposition forces moved in two years ago, Assad turned on the Palestinians, laying siege to the camp and blocking water and electricity supplies. Now Islamic State (‘Daesh’) jihadists have moved in, while Assad’s forces barrel-bomb the camp. The remaining Palestinians are trapped between the two forces of mass-murder.
Yet the UN stands by and does nothing. And the so-called Palestine Solidarity Campaign organises no protests and rounds up no celebrities to sign letters to the Guardian. Why not? Surely it’s not because on this occasion, Israel can’t be blamed?
Thanks to Martin Chulov and Kareem Shaheen of the Guardian.
To his credit, Mehdi Hasan speaks out.
Correction: the PSC has issued a statement … blaming Israel …
Andrew Coates, over at Tendance Coatesy , reacts to the latest Islamist outrage:
‘Hostage situation’ in Tunis as parliament, museum come under attack
Published time: March 18, 2015 11:46
The Tunisian Parliament has come under attack, with lawmakers saying gunfire can be heard at the scene. Local reporters tweet militants entered the Bardo Museum through the parliament, taking several tourists hostage.
Militants dressed as soldiers are attacking the Tunisia Assembly, local journalists say. The parliament is located in Bardo Palace, which is also home to a national museum.
Several tourists have been taken hostage, according to Radio Mosaique FM.
Tunisian security forces have surrounded at least two militants believed to be holding hostages at a museum in the country’s parliament grounds.
Private radio station Radio Mosaique said that three men dressed in military-style clothing may have taken hostages inside the museum.
Latest news directly from Tunisia talks of around 20 Tourist hostages.
Un grand nombre de touristes ont été pris en otages par 3 ou 4 individus armés qui se sont présentés au musée en tenue militaire.
D’après les premiers faits rapportés il y aurait un certain nombre de blessés, voir même de morts, enregistrés suite au coups de feu tirés sur les tourristes qui venaient de descendre du bus qui les transportait au musée.
D’après les déclarations faites par un guide touristiques au correspondant de mosaïque fm sur place une vingtaine de touristes dont retenus en otages , vu qu’une centaine d’entre eux ont pu être évacués d’urgence par la porte arrière du musée dès que les premiers coups de feu ont été tirés.
Direct Info (Tunsia).
Des tirs ont été entendus au musée national, situé dans le même bâtiment que le Parlement ce mercredi.
There were unverified reports that a foreign tourist or tourists may have been taken hostage at the Bardo museum.
Shortly before, exchanges of gunfire were heard at Tunisia‘s parliament building, the country’s state news agency reported.
Parliamentary committees suspended their meetings as MPs were ordered to assemble in the main chamber, Islamist MP Monia Brahim told AFP.
A witness near the parliament told Reuters a large police presence was moving to evacuate the building.
The Bardo museum chronicles Tunisia’s history and includes one of the world’s largest collections of Roman mosaics.
Tunisia has struggled with violence by Islamic extremists since overthrowing a dictator in 2011.
This does not come out of the blue,
The Ministry of Interior announced on Monday the arrest of 22 militants working in four alleged terrorist cells recruiting young Tunisians to fight in Libya. The ministry also announced an additional 10 other militants were also arrested while attempting to cross into Libya to join militant groups.
The two successful operations were led by the National Unity of Investigation for Terrorist Crimes.
According to the Ministry of Interior, the four cells discovered operating in Kairouan were responsible for recruiting young Tunisians, with a focus on targeting students to join militants in Libya. “This terrorist network is collaborating with dangerous Tunisian terrorists active in Libya, and working to supervise training camps with their counterparts from different countries,” a statement by the Ministry of Interior said.
The Ministry of Interior also stated it seized around ten thousand dinars and 200 Euros in cash, iPads, memory cards as well as mobile phones.
Al Qaeda admit Tunisian terror attack
A known al Qaeda spokesman said in a voice recording broadcast today that the militant group was behind a deadly suicide attack at a Tunisian synagogue in April which killed 21 people, including 14 Germans.
It was the first direct claim of al Qaeda involvement in the blast near El Ghriba synagogue on the resort island of Djerba. German government ministers had earlier said there was evidence linking the blast to the militant network.
“This operation was carried out by al Qaeda network. A youth could not see his brothers in Palestine butchered and murdered…(while) he saw Jews cavorting in Djerba,” Sulaiman bu Ghaith said in the undated recording broadcast by Qatar-based al-Jazeera channel.
“So this spirit of jihad surged and he (the al Qaeda member) carried out this successful operation, may God accept it,” said bu Ghaith, who emerged as an al Qaeda spokesman after the September 11 attacks, which Washington blames on al Qaeda.
It was not clear when the tape was received or where bu Ghaith was speaking from. He has spoken about al Qaeda activities on Web sites and Middle Eastern news channels.
For many people in the world, including this Blog, Tunisia is a hero nation, and its people have shown their best side in recent years.
If we hear any Stop the War Coalition or SWP spokesperson opining on this unfolding tragedy – no doubt to say that Tunisia will be safe from Islamic killers if it stops invading the Middle East – we shall vomit.
NB: breaking news (as of Wednesday 6.00pm, UK time):
Reblogged from Tendance Coatesy:
Avijit Roy, who has been killed in an attack in Dhaka at the age of 42, was a Bangladeshi-American blogger, published author, and prominent defender of the free-thought movement in Bangladesh.
Mr Roy rose to prominence though his prolific writing on his self-founded site, Mukto-Mona – an internet gathering of mostly South Asia free-thinkers, rationalists, sceptics and humanists founded in 2000.
He was a passionate atheist and an adherent of metaphysical naturalism – the school of thought that rejects the supernatural concepts and explanations that are part of many religions.
He was the author of numerous books, and had many articles published in magazines and journals.
In a conservative country like Bangladesh, his subject matter was often contentious, covering sensitive issues such as homosexuality – which he argued was inherent in nature – religious unbelief and cosmology.
Mr Roy’s followers argue that many of his secular ideas are in the tradition of the great Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore, who died in 1941 and is often referred to as “Bengal’s Shakespeare”.
Some of the last books Mr Roy wrote, Obisshahser Dorshon (The Philosophy of Disbelief) and Biswasher Virus (The Virus of Faith), were critically well received around the world.
In the Virus of Faith he argues that “faith-based terrorism will wreak havoc on society in epidemic proportions”.
In one of his last published articles in the Free Inquiry magazine, Mr Roy wrote: “To me, religious extremism is like a highly contagious virus. My own recent experiences in this regard verify the horrific reality that such religious extremism is a virus of faith.”
He said in the article that a book he published last year “hit the cranial nerve of Islamic fundamentalists” and led to him being targeted by militant Islamists and terrorists.
It also led, he said, to a man openly issuing death threats against him on Facebook.
“Avijit Roy lives in America and so it is not possible to kill him right now,” Mr Roy quoted one threat against him as saying, “but he will be murdered when he gets back.”
The Independent reports,
Avijit Roy and his wife were returning from a book fair at Dhaka University on Thursday evening when they were attacked.
Witnesses told local media their bicycle rickshaw was stopped by two men who dragged them on to the pavement but police chief Sirajul Islam said the couple were ambushed as they walked towards a roadside tea stall.
Both accounts said at least two men with machetes started hacking at the couple as they lay on the ground.
The attackers then ran away, disappearing into crowds.
Mr Roy, believed to be in his 40s, was pronounced dead during emergency surgery at the Dhaka Medical College hospital and his wife, Rafida Ahmed Banna, lost a finger and is being treated for serious injuries.
Police found her severed finger alongside two machetes and a bag possibly belonging to the attackers at the scene
In Commemoration: Avijit Roy.
News From Bangladesh:
BD News 24.
Avijit’s killing stirs world media Mohammad Abu Bakar Siddique
The brutal killing of writer, blogger Avijit Roy in hand of machete-wielding assailants has created a shockwave in the global media.
The leading news organisations from around the world including BBC, Reuters, the Guardian, The New York Times, NDTV etc condemned the barbarous killing, bringing out detail of the attack.
BBC placed the news on the attack that left the Bangladesh-born US citizen dead and his wife also a blogger Rafida Ahmed Bonna, critically injured, as its lead on the following day, with the headline suggesting “US-Bangladesh blogger Avijit Roy hacked to death.”
The contributions of Avijit, a naturalised US citizen, particularly his activism for scientific knowledge and secularism through online and publications, his receiving threats from militants groups, the attack by the widespread protest against the killing and for arrest of the attackers, and the country’s context were mentioned in the BBC’s report.
The killing of the son of the country’s one of the most prominent professors Ajay Roy was covered Reuters, as “American blogger killed in Bangladesh machete attack,” the New York Times reported “Avijit Roy, Bangladeshi-American Writer, Is Killed by Machete-Wielding Assailants,” besides several other versions with updates.
Roy came to Dhaka for publication of his new books in the book fair around mid-February with his wife, and on the evening they fell under the attack in the TSC area in Dhaka University on the way back from the fair.
Avijit wrote a number of books on mainly philosophy, rationalism and science, in line with his activism, also in online, for secularism and freedom of expression, for which he had been receiving death threats since long, including the recent one when social media fanatics openly declared to kill him on coming home, family told media.
The UK-based the Guardian reported “American atheist blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh” mentioning the previously happened similar attacks on the free thinkers.
“American-Bangladeshi atheist blogger Avijit Roy hacked to death by suspected Islamist extremists,” wrote the UK based the Independent.
The Telegraph wrote: “Atheist US blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh,” while The Times headlined “Atheist US blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh”
CNN titled “Prominent Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy killed” where it detailed with the facts related to the killing and the shocks emerged from it.
It reported on the very attack in two more stories with title “American writer hacked to death in Bangladesh spoke out against extremists”, and “Blogger’s brutal death for speaking his mind.”
From the murder to the UN condemnation, the media all around the world are coming up with the follow ups as well.
The attack was widely covered in the media of neighboring India and Pakistan.
India’s NDTV and Pakistan’s Dawn among the prominent news media covered the story, his contributions, threats were mentioned.
These news media are also following the developments in Bangladesh and the world, in response to the attack, protest and condemnation that began in Dhaka.
Reblogged from Tendance Coatesy:
Lars Vilks Muhammad drawings controversy.
The Krudttønden cafe in central Østerbro, Denmark, was sprayed with bullets on Saturday afternoon. The attack came during a free-speech debate with controversial Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who had depicted the prophet Muhammad in cartoons.
From the recording of the meeting on the BBC site:
We hear: “Yes, it is freedom of speech but” “the turning point is but…” “Why do we still say but…”
Sounds of shots….
There have been plenty of “buts” recently. Above of from those enemies of free-speech and liberty who begin “I condemn the Charlie Hebdo killings, But.”
Follow latest updates
Parts of Copenhagen were on lockdown Saturday night after deadly twin attacks on the Danish capital.
A café holding an event in support of freedom of speech was attacked by two gunmen early on Saturday, leaving one man dead and three police officers injured.
After searching for the gunman for hours, police reported another shooting near a synagogue in downtown Copenhagen after midnight. One man died from a gunshot wound to the head and two police officers wre left injured. The gunman fled on foot, and police warned people to be vigilant and follow the instructions of officers flooding the city centre.
The meeting was organised by Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who has faced several death threats for his controversial caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad.
The attack came just over a month after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, in which Islamist terrorists killed 17 people.
The French ambassador to Denmark, Francois Zimeray, was one of the speakers at the event, which was described by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Danish prime minister as a “terrorist act”.
As many as 200 bullet holes ripped through the window of the Krudttoenden café and at least two people were taken away on stretchers, including a uniformed police officer.
Also already in Wikipedia.
Deaths: Finn Nørgaard, 55, a film director, Dan Uzan was killed while guarding the synagogue in Krystalgade during a bar mitzvah celebration.
Two police officers were also hit but their injuries were said not to be life-threatening.
Danish Red-Green Unity bloc (Enhedslistens, De Rød-Grønne) statement, We must stand together against terror and extremism
Enhedslistens political spokesperson Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen, said after the attack to a debate on Oesterbro :
– I think we are all deeply affected and shocked by what has just happened in Copenhagen. Everything indicates that there is a terrorist attack on a peaceful debate event. You can not condemn enough. It is completely incomprehensible and mad that someone seems prepared to attack other people because of drawings or positions they disagree with. I hope the police quickly catch the person or the initiators behind the acts.
– The strongest response to such attacks is to show that we do not let ourselves be cowed. We must continue to think, write and draw exactly what we want. And we must stand together and show that terrorists and extremists will not succeed to sow discord and hatred in our society.
To those about to launch statements about Lars Vilks and the Freedom of Speech seminar full of “buts“, (notably the figures present at this event, Islamophobia and the war on terror who seem to live in a world where Islamist Genociders do not exist except as a product of ‘imperialism’) we say this:
We are not prepared to engage in the dead-end of arguing about what is, or what is not, in the Qu’ran, or ‘Islam’.
Reblogged from Left Foot Forward:
Tehmina Kazi of British Muslims for Secular Democracy looks at nine mistaken assumptions doing the rounds following the murders that took place at the offices of Charlie Hebdo:
False Assumption One
‘Charlie Hebdo magazine was needlessly provocative’
Manufacturers of outrage and assorted agitators do not need any kind of ‘provocation’ for their actions. When Jyllands-Posten published the Danish cartoons in September 2005, protests in Muslim-majority countries did not start until four months later.
Mona Eltahawy’s interview with Jytte Klausen, the Danish-born author of the Yale Press’s forthcoming book, Cartoons That Shook the World, recognised that lag. According to Yale Press’s Web site, she argues that Muslim reaction to the cartoons was not spontaneous but, rather, that it was orchestrated “first by those with vested interests in elections in Denmark and Egypt”, and later by “extremists seeking to destabilize governments in Pakistan, Lebanon, Libya, and Nigeria”.
Further, Quilliam Foundation director and Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate Maajid Nawaz re-tweeted a ‘Jesus and Mo’ cartoon on 12 January 2014. Most of the people who called for his de-selection – and helped to whip up the resultant furore – conveniently ignored his original mention of the cartoons on the BBC’s Big Questions programme earlier. The broadcast itself attracted barely a whisper on social media.
False Assumption Two
‘The Left should defend all expressions of Islam at all costs’
Professor Karima Bennoune said it best in her article, ‘Why Bill Maher and Ben Affleck are both wrong‘: “We do not need either stereotypical generalizations or minimising responses to fundamentalism, however well-intentioned.
What we need is a principled, anti-racist critique of Muslim fundamentalism that pulls no punches, but that also distinguishes between Islam (the diverse religious tradition) and Islamism (an extreme right-wing political ideology). We need support, understanding and to have our existence recognised.”
False Assumption Three
‘The French hate Muslims, don’t they?’
From the Pew Global Attitudes survey 2014, which interviewed 7,022 citizens in seven European countries, 72 per cent of French citizens polled said they had a favourable opinion of Muslims in their country. This was higher than Italy, Greece, Poland, Spain, Germany, and even the UK.
False Assumption Four
‘Not in Our Name campaigns are helpful’
As well-intentioned as these undoubtedly are, the ‘Not in my name’ campaigns spearheaded by Muslims send out a problematic subliminal message to non-Muslims: that Muslims are unwilling to sort out the problems in their own back yard.
No-one is expecting us to eradicate all gender segregation in public events overnight, or to change the minds of all homophobic preachers in a few months, or to re-introduce music lessons in all Muslim-majority schools that have cancelled them. No-one is saying that we have to devote several years of our lives and careers doing this (as I have).
However, we are expected to make some effort to condemn obscurantism from all quarters, or as much as we are able to within our own circles of influence. Given that the Qu’ran takes such a strong line on humans challenging injustice wherever we find it, this shouldn’t be too difficult.
False Assumption Five
‘Religious minorities have less to gain from democratic freedoms than the majority’
The same legislation that promotes freedom of expression also protects freedom of religion – and from religion. Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion (unless state interference with these is shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim).
In a non-legal context, the culture of rights and freedoms we have in the UK leads to strong civil society projects that monitor anti-Muslim attacks, such as Tell MAMA.
False Assumption Six
‘Condemnation is sufficient’
Sombre press releases and widely-shared Facebook updates are better than nothing, but many of their authors have inadvertently contributed to the problem in the past.
By endorsing blasphemy laws, treating the words of Zakir Naik and Junaid Jamshed as gospel, or turning a blind eye when feminist or progressive Muslim activists (like Sara Khan of Inspire) are viciously attacked for their work on Twitter.
False Assumption Seven
‘It is always someone else’s fault’
Then there are those who won’t even condemn acts of violence and terrorism, but automatically paint the attacks as false-flag operations, with a cast of extras to rival ‘Titanic’. In my experience, attempting to reason with these people is a waste of time and energy. Better to leave them to their echo chambers.
False Assumption Eight
‘Beliefs deserve more protection than people’
Under the Equality Act 2010, beliefs are only protected insofar as they apply to the rights of individuals. For instance, it is unlawful for someone to discriminate against you because of your religion or belief (or because you have no religion or belief):
- in any aspect of employment
- when providing goods, facilities and services
- when providing education
- in using or disposing of premises, or
- when exercising public functions.
False Assumption Nine
‘The way forward is to treat each event as a passing accident of horror’
Laissez-faire approaches like these have led us to the predicament we are in. These acts are neither passing nor accidental; they are part of one long atrocity continuum, compounded by mainstream society’s cowardice and unwillingness to champion unpopular causes.
Instead, campaigning groups that happily take on the far-right should challenge the Muslim right-wing with equal ferocity, rather than giving their behaviour a free pass.
* Tehmina Kazi has been director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy since May 2009, and has worked on a number of human rights and citizenship projects
From Tendance Coatesy:
Confronted with the threat of mass murder in Iraq by the genociders of the Islamic State (ISIL) the American President, Obama, has issued this statement.
Today I authorized two operations in Iraq — targeted airstrikes to protect our American personnel, and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food and water and facing almost certain death.
First, I said in June — as the terrorist group ISIL began an advance across Iraq — that the United States would be prepared to take targeted military action in Iraq if and when we determined that the situation required it. In recent days, these terrorists have continued to move across Iraq, and have neared the city of Erbil, where American diplomats and civilians serve at our consulate and American military personnel advise Iraqi forces.
To stop the advance on Erbil, I’ve directed our military to take targeted strikes against ISIL terrorist convoys should they move toward the city. We intend to stay vigilant, and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq, including our consulate in Erbil and our embassy in Baghdad. We’re also providing urgent assistance to Iraqi government and Kurdish forces so they can more effectively wage the fight against ISIL.
Second, at the request of the Iraqi government — we’ve begun operations to help save Iraqi civilians stranded on the mountain. As ISIL has marched across Iraq, it has waged a ruthless campaign against innocent Iraqis. And these terrorists have been especially barbaric towards religious minorities, including Christian and Yezidis, a small and ancient religious sect. Countless Iraqis have been displaced. And chilling reports describe ISIL militants rounding up families, conducting mass executions, and enslaving Yezidi women.
In recent days, Yezidi women, men and children from the area of Sinjar have fled for their lives. And thousands — perhaps tens of thousands — are now hiding high up on the mountain, with little but the clothes on their backs. They’re without food, they’re without water. People are starving. And children are dying of thirst. Meanwhile, ISIL forces below have called for the systematic destruction of the entire Yezidi people, which would constitute genocide. So these innocent families are faced with a horrible choice: descend the mountain and be slaughtered, or stay and slowly die of thirst and hunger.
I’ve said before, the United States cannot and should not intervene every time there’s a crisis in the world. So let me be clear about why we must act, and act now. When we face a situation like we do on that mountain — with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help — in this case, a request from the Iraqi government — and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye. We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide. That’s what we’re doing on that mountain.
The Stop the War Coalition has published this a couple of days ago (from the most recent Labour Briefing)
ISIS barbarians threatening Iraq: who they are and where they come from.
Sami Ramadani states,
We should support secular-democratic efforts to rebuild a measure of peaceful co-existence between the sects, religions, ethnicities and nationalities of Iraq and the Middle East. Keeping quiet about ISIS throat-cutters and their assorted allies, just because we oppose the Maliki regime’s policies, is a recipe for disaster.
Having pillaged large parts of Syria and terrorised its religious and ethnic minorities, as well as its women, they are now marching towards Baghdad, joined by Saddamist officers and Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi zealots. This will lead to a sectarian bloodbath.
ISIS will not flinch from burning Baghdad’s remaining books and removing its girls from schools. They want to punish millions of “idolatry” Shia and crucify its remaining “Nassara” Christians. They were funded, armed and trained by the US and its allies: Turkey and the amoral sheiks and princes of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Israel helped them by bombing raids on Syria and treating their wounded in Israeli hospitals before re-arming them to go back to Syria to escalate the carnage.
We need to face the fact that popular activity in west and north west Iraq, just like in Syria, has been effectively highjacked by sectarian and racist forces. I cannot possibly remain silent about movements, no matter how popular, that are led by racist, sectarian and nihilist forces. In Mosul, Tikrit and Fallujah, they have capitalised on popular demands and are now dominant.
Ramadani is critical of the Iraqi government, led by Maliki, which he describes as sectarian and brutal,
What Iraq needs, and sadly lacks today, is strong secular, democratic organisations that can unite the people to overthrow the occupation-built sectarian institutions, and rid Iraq of US intervention and that of all regional powers. This cannot be achieved by replacing Maliki’s corrupt regime with a regime led by the above organisations. Maliki is a passing phase, but, if the barbarians win, they will destroy what is left of Iraqi society, following its devastation by the US-led occupation.
It is for the Iraqi people to remove Maliki and not for the US and its proxies to impose a more pliant ruler. This is the devastation that evolved in Syria and we must not ignore its probable evolution in Iraq. For the winners will be the oil companies, arms manufacturers, and sectarian war lords plunging the entire Middle East into a blood bath.”
The evidence is that Baghdad is ruled by a sectarian government.
As Patrick Cockbrun states in the latest London Review of Books,
Iraq’s Shia leaders haven’t grappled with the fact that their domination over the Iraqi state, brought about by the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein, is finished, and only a Shia rump is left. It ended because of their own incompetence and corruption and because the Sunni uprising in Syria in 2011 destabilised the sectarian balance of power in Iraq.
He indicates that the genociders have powerful backing from outside Iraq and Syria,
The foster parents of Isis and the other Sunni jihadi movements in Iraq and Syria are Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies and Turkey. This doesn’t mean the jihadis didn’t have strong indigenous roots, but their rise was crucially supported by outside Sunni powers. The Saudi and Qatari aid was primarily financial, usually through private donations, which Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, says were central to the Isis takeover of Sunni provinces in northern Iraq: ‘Such things do not happen spontaneously.’
If a “a new and terrifying state has been born.” perhaps it will die of its internal contradictions.
It may well be that US intervention will not solve anything.
Unfortunately the Christians, Yezidi and Shia of Iraq cannot wait or pose these questions.
They need help now.
Can we stand by, criticise Obama, and let nothing be done to come to their aid?
Some of us would accept help from anyone if we were in the plight of the potential victims of the Islamist genociders.
France prepared to give military support for action in Iraq against the Islamic State, without giving details of what this entails. Libération.
Why are the Yazidis threatened with genocide?
They are not “people of the Book”:
“Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking people who follow an ancient religion blending elements of Zoroastrianism, Islam, Christianity and local folk beliefs. Several hundred thousand followers live in Sinjar and Sheikhan, two regions just west and east of Mosul.
Smaller communities of Yazidis live in Syria, Armenia and Germany.
At their unique conical temples, they worship a peacock deity called Melek Taus and hold elaborate ceremonies that involve fire and water.
“Yezidism is a syncretic religion that takes from a variety of different traditions, some Zoroastrianism, Islamic and a little bit of animism,” said Austin Long, professor of international affairs at Columbia University in New York. “It’s a mixed religion with a long-standing history in Iraq. Most are Kurds, ethnically.”
Through the centuries, Yazidis have often been persecuted by Muslims who say the faith is forbidden. In 2007, hundreds of Yazidis in Sinjar died in a series of massive explosions orchestrated against them by al-Qaida in Iraq — the precursor of the Islamic State.” from here.
More: Why you really need to pay attention to Iraq’s Yazidi community
Keeping Your Head Above Water In London
James Bloodworth’s rather moving valediction to the capital, written in 2011, on the sixth anniversary of 7/7. James’s personal circumstances have changed quite considerably (he now has a job back in London) since he wrote this and we first posted it here at Shiraz.
Dedicated to those who lost their lives to religious fascism on this day six (now nine) years ago
Yesterday I moved from London to a place called Burnham-on-sea, a banal coastal town in the South West of England where they still sell Donald McGill-style postcards in the summertime. I moved because my family live here; and with family comes a degree of financial security. I still intend to spend much of my time in London, but I cannot afford to live there any longer. Not that is, until I find gainful, paid employment. Getting a job is notoriously difficult for the unemployed at present. A man I recently sat next to at a recruitment fair told me and others he had applied for 10,000 jobs in the past two years. He was almost certainly exaggerating – overdoing one’s own misfortune seems to be a particularly British characteristic – or perhaps disastrous at writing job applications, but nonetheless, the fact that many present were prepared to believe him speaks volumes about the state of the job market.
As it happened, I was able to land a job with my previous employer, Royal Mail. Getting the job proved to be the easy part. More difficult was getting sufficient hours to pay the rent as well as buy enough to eat. Being a Postman today is a very different job to what it used to be. Almost all new contracts are temporary and based on 25-30 hour weeks; and the amount of junk a postman is required to carry around on his back in the form of advertising is rising exponentially year-on-year. That was my impression at least. Unable to eke out anything other than an extremely meagre existence in London on £200 a week, I left the position after only two weeks in the job.
The part of London life that is perhaps the biggest burden is the cost of rent. Being shown around dingy, mould-infested bedsits only to be told you must pay £100 a week for the pleasure of living there is soul destroying; especially when it comes with the prospect of giving half your weekly pay to someone whose “portfolio” ensures they will never have to sleep in mould infested dwellings, nor break their back for £200 a week. With very little chance of ever owning a house, those with inadequate living quarters must instead navigate the rental free-market, where at the end of every tenancy getting your deposit back can be like trying to extract teeth from a bad tempered dog. Life in London can be hugely enjoyable, but it can also leave you feeling a little like Gordon Comstock, the character in George Orwell’s novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying, his living conditions grim, his job boring, and his impecuniousness a frequent source of humiliation. The difference in my case is that I am not actively trying to sink to the lowest levels of society.
London famously attracts its fair share of those attempting to “make it” in one sense or another. As someone who has recently completed a course in journalism at City University, I am fairly sure I fit into this category of person myself. Although fully aware that moving to London would not open some golden path into the journalistic profession, I did view it as the correct place to be, which it undeniably is, most of all perhaps because of the opportunities to meet people you only get in the capital.
One thing you soon start to notice in London is the extraordinary extent to which everything is about “connections”, not least in journalism. The major newspaper titles no longer advertise positions, instead preferring to find employees who are in the loop, so to speak. Most graduates instead pursue internship placements, working anything up to a year for free on a major title, performing menial tasks such as tea-making in the almost millenarian hope that one day they may get the chance to contribute something worthwhile to the paper.
Professional journalism has always been something of a middle and upper class pursuit of course. The term “BBC accent” was coined during the 20th century to describe a recognisable Home Counties diction the corporation now likes to pretend most of its employees do not in fact possess. What certainly has changed is that most of those successfully entering the profession today have postgraduate qualifications and lengthy internships under their belts, affordable only to the relatively affluent; and unlike a Home Counties accent, something which cannot be faked. The resulting journalism that
invades my own cramped bedroom every night via the television could perhaps most aptly be described as the political establishment talking to itself.
If you can handle all of this and come out of it with your sanity you may be rewarded with a job, or you may not be. What will almost certainly be the case is there will be less in the boss’s pot with which to pay you, the worker, whether in the newspaper business or elsewhere. In hard times employee’s wages inevitably take the hit before chief executive final salary pension schemes; and if that means newsrooms becoming increasingly stuffed with wealthy individuals who can partake in journalism as a leisure activity, then so be it.
The days always seemed to go by at a faster pace in London. What I mean to say is that the time actually feels like it is moving faster. I think because so much of each day is spent under the ground scuttling along, I would say at great speed, but often at a crawl, on an overcrowded tube train. The conditions often bring out the worst in people, myself included. Just the other day I got into a quarrel with a man over some trivial thing (he bumped into me as I was walking round a corner), resulting in a situation that could quite easily have resulted in a physical confrontation, foolish on my part though that would have been.
It was of course in Keep the Aspidistra Flying that Gordon Comstock declared his own personal war on affluence. Riding on the Docklands Light Railway first thing in the morning having practically embalmed my liver the night before, sat next to the businessmen with calculators working out their cash flows on the way to Canary Wharf, I have gotten, I like to think, a small insight into Gordon Comstock’s disdain for the capitalist vulgarities he sees around him, oscillating between self-admiration and self-loathing.
Six years ago today a group of deranged fanatics declared not a war on affluence, but a war on London. Without dragging up tired clichés about “never forgetting” (although you shouldn’t) and lionising the “spirit of the blitz”, remembering that 52 innocent people were murdered for a fascistic ideology puts my own London-induced neuroticism into perspective. Despite his (to me anyway) disagreeable political views, Samuel Johnson was right to say that “by seeing London, [he had] seen as much of life as the world can show”, and it was this that so disgusted the murderers of 7/7 – the sheer diversity of life in the capital, whether represented by “those slags dancing around” (as some other would-be murderers called them), or the insufficiently pious Muslims who practiced at their local Mosques.
Returning to Orwell, Gordon Comstock always had to share his room with aspidistras which continued to thrive despite his mistreatment of them. Despite what happened on that day in July 2005, London continues to thrive, and is a place I will return to live soon, I hope.
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