Opposition to Putin and his ultra-reactionary regime ought to be second nature for self-proclaimed leftists. Unfortunately, it isn’t: the Morning Star and former Guardian columnist (now a senior adviser to Corbyn) Seumas Milne, for instance, have a long record of defending and justifying Putin, especially (but not only) with regard to Russian imperialism in Ukraine.
So it was a welcome development when Guardian columnist Owen Jones recently admonished certain (unnamed) sections of the left for remaining silent about the reactionary nature of Putin’s regime. Even so, Jones’s piece was hedged about with embarrassed apologetics designed to appease the pro-Putin “left” and to excuse in advance his own half-hearted apostasy:
“Yes, there is something rather absurd about the baiting of the anti-war left for not protesting against, say, Putin or North Korea. The baiters are always free to organise their own demonstration (I would be happy to join), and protest movements can only realistically aspire to put pressure on governments at home, whether it be on domestic policies or alliances with human rights abusers abroad (whether that be, say, the head-chopping Saudi exporters of extremism, or Israel’s occupation of Palestine). In democracies, protests that echo the official line of governments are rare. If the west was actively cheering Putin on and arming him to the teeth, we might expect more vociferous opposition.”
Anne Field, writing in the present issue of Solidarity, is more straightforward:
Putin: a model of reactionary politics
The report of Britain’s official Owen Inquiry into the 2006 murder of former Russian security service agent Alexander Litvinenko was published on 21 January. It attributed responsibility for the murder to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
Putin ruled Russia as its President from 2000 to 2008. Barred by the constitution from seeking a third successive term of office, Putin was nominally Prime Minister between 2008 and 2012. In reality, he remained the ultimate source of authority in Russia. Amid widespread allegations of ballot-rigging, Putin was re-elected President for six years in 2012. (The presidential term of office had been increased from four to six years while Putin was Prime Minister). He is already on record as saying that he will seek re-election in 2018.
From the outset Putin’s rule has been based on “siloviki” (strongmen): former KGB agents and serving agents of the police and the FSB (the Russian successor to the KGB), and former and serving military commanders. According to a survey carried out by Olga Kryshtanovskaya in 2004, “siloviki” constituted around 25% of Russia’s political elite, and over 50% of Putin’s inner circle. Their influence has continued to grow since then. Putin himself is a former KGB agent. But, as Kryshtanovskaya wrote: “Putin brought ‘siloviki’ with him. But that’s not enough to understand the situation. The whole political class wished them to come. There was a need of a strong arm, capable from point of view of the elite to establish order in the country.”
One of Putin’s first acts was to incorporate Russia’s 89 regions into seven new federal districts. The districts are run by appointees personally selected by Putin as his representatives. They have control over the armed forces, the budgets and activities of the regional governors in their districts.
Five of the first seven appointees were “siloviki”. At the same time Putin weakened the powers of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament with representation from the country’s different regions. Putin also scrapped the election of regional governors (they too were to be personally appointed by Putin) and empowered local legislatures (dominated in practice by Putin’s supporters) to sack popularly elected mayors. Over the past decade and a half potential sources of opposition to Putin’s rule in civil society have been attacked, one after another. The media empires run by the oligarchs Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky were both effectively taken over by Putin and their owners forced to flee Russia. Dissident journalists have been sacked, programmes critical of Putin have been taken off the air, and attempts to create independent television channels blocked by the government. The only surviving independent channel is now run from an apartment in Moscow.
Under a law signed off by Putin in 2014, international organisations, foreigners and Russians with dual citizenship will be banned from owning mass media outlets by the end of 2016. Its main target is Vedomosti, jointly published by the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. The internet in Russia is controlled by the government agency Roskomnadzor, created in 2012. Russian bloggers with 3,000 or more visitors a day have to register with Roskomnadzor, reveal their identities, and verify the accuracy of their blogs. Roskomnadzor can also block websites which “refuse to follow Russian laws”, which carry “extremist” political content, or which “encourage illegal activities and participation in public events held in violation of the established order.” Foreign-funded non-governmental organisations (NGOs), described by Putin as “jackals” and “Judases”, have been singled out for repressive legislation. They are required to register as “foreign agents”, submit quarterly reports on their funds and resources, and submit six-monthly reports on their personnel and activities. They are also subject to mandatory audits and can be fined for publishing anything not described as having been published by “a foreign agent”.
In the spring of 2013 alone, 2,000 NGOs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, were raided by government authorities. After a wave of protests at Putin’s decision to seek re-election as President in 2012, he increased fines for taking part in unauthorised protests to 300,000 rubles, and fines for organising such protests to a million rubles. In 2014 Putin ramped up the penalties yet again. Repeated participation in unauthorised protests now attracts a penalty of up to a million rubles and up to five years of forced labour or prison. A law passed in 2013 banned the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships to minors”. Breaches of the law could result in fines or imprisonment. The following year another law banned all swearwords in films, on television and in theatre performances. And last year new rules for licencing the showing of films were introduced, banning films which “defile the national culture, pose a threat to national unity, and undermine the foundations of the constitutional order.”
Other laws have obstructed the registration of “non-indigenous religions” and prevented them from acquiring land and building permits. This has benefited the religious monopoly enjoyed by the Russian Orthodox Church, described by Putin as one of the two “pillars” of national and state security. The other “pillar” is nuclear deterrence. Reflecting Putin’s own views on Stalin (“his legacy cannot be judged in black and white”), Russia adopted Stalin’s national anthem (with different lyrics) in 2000, and Russian textbooks now explain that while the Stalinist and post-Stalinist USSR was not a democracy, it was “an example for millions of people around the world of the best and fairest society.” Putin has also regularly contrasted his authoritarian conservatism with western “decadence”, denouncing the west as “genderless and infertile” and guilty of “the destruction of traditional values from the top.”
This has provided a basis for political alliances between Putin and parties of the European far right: the French National Front, the Hungarian Jobbik, the Bulgarian Attack, the Slovak People’s Party, and various far-right parties in Germany. Putin’s endorsement of Donald Trump for US president last month was only a logical development of his support for political reaction at an international level. Putin’s record since 2000 has not been one of a failed attempt to establish a functioning democracy after the chaos and corruption of the 1990s. It is a record of success in establishing an authoritarian regime which has promoted itself as a model for far-right movements and regimes round the world. And it is a record regularly punctuated by the physical elimination of Putin’s critics and opponents: the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the anti-corruption campaigner Sergei Magnitsky, and the opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, as well as Litvinenko.
George Galloway is the gift that keeps on giving. He no longer makes me angry: he makes me laugh. An increasingly preposterous self-caricature, the Prat in The Hat has become a rather sad conspiracy theorist.
On BBC Newsnight (see Youtube clip above) he rejected The Owen inquiry‘s conclusion that Vladimir Putin was “probably” involved in the murder of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko – claiming the inquiry was “riddled with imperfection” and accusing the BBC’s Newsnight of conducting a “show trial”. He also claimed to be opposed to Islamist extremism (in sharp contrast to what he said during the Afghan and Iraq wars) and accused Litvinenko’s friend, the Russian democracy campaigner Alex Goldfarb of having a “cold war agenda.”
The Prat then went on to praise Putin for “trying to restore a lot of the lost prestige” in Russia and for being “the most popular politician on the planet”, before entering the realms of conspiracy theory, likening the Owen’s inquiry – which found Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun to have poisoned Litvinenko in London in 2006 by putting the radioactive substance polonium-210 into his drink at a hotel – to the inquest into the death of Iraq weapons inspector, Dr David Kelly.
It would be easy to ascribe this sort of grovelling to the fact that Galloway is a bought-and-paid for creature of Putin’s propaganda machine (he works for RT television), but I don’t think that is really the explanation: the truth is that Galloway is irresistibly drawn to dictators and strongmen, whom he admires and seeks to serve in whatever capacity he can.
He has become a truly pathetic figure.
STOP PRESS: Galloway knows who dunnit: it was the You-Know-Who’s (of course!):
On the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, we should remember the shameful response of some on the Western “liberal”/”left”: here, in an article first published on the excellent Quillette website, Jamie Palmer surgically dissects one of the foulest of the apologists of the fascist killers:
The cover of the latest edition of Charlie Hebdo, bearing a headline that translates as ‘One year on: The assassin still at large’, to mark the first anniversary of the terror attack. (AFP/Martin Bureau)
Glenn Greenwald: Fascism’s Fellow Traveller
By Jamie Palmer
“When Glenn Greenwald castigates the dead Charlie Hebdo cartoonists for racism,” the writer Sam Harris observed recently, “he’s not only proving that he’s a moral imbecile; he’s participating in a global war of ideas over free speech – and he’s on the wrong side of it.”
Back in April, the short story writer Deborah Eisenberg took a rather different view. In her letter to PEN’s executive director Suzanne Nossel, Eisenberg included Greenwald on a shortlist of people she considered worthier of PEN’s annual Freedom of Expression Award for Courage than the dead and surviving Charlie Hebdo staff. Unlike the slain cartoonists, she wrote of her recommendations, “their courage has been fastidiously exercised for the good of humanity.”
All things considered, this was an extravagant claim to make on behalf of Greenwald’s valour and integrity, particularly at Charlie Hebdo’s expense. Greenwald – formerly of Salon and the Guardian and now co-founding editor at Pierre Omidyar’s campaigning blog, the Intercept – is most famous as the journalist to whom rogue NSA employee Edward Snowden leaked a vast cache of national security information before finding sanctuary in Putin’s Russia. Eisenberg stated that it was for his work on this story that she was recommending him as an honouree.
But Greenwald’s reputation as an unbending defender of free expression stretches back a good deal further than this. Before becoming a writer, he had worked as a litigator defending clients in a number of controversial First Amendment suits, and has since written several trenchant polemics defending the right to unconditional free speech. In January 2013, for example, Greenwald wrote the following for the Guardian as part of a response to a French government proposal to censor online hate speech:
The history of human knowledge is nothing more than the realization that yesterday’s pieties are actually shameful errors. It is constantly the case that human beings of the prior generation enshrined a belief as objectively, unchallengably [sic] true which the current generation came to see as wildly irrational or worse. All of the most cherished human dogmas – deemed so true and undeniable that dissent should be barred by the force of law – have been subsequently debunked, or at least discredited. How do you get yourself to believe that you’re exempt from this evolutionary process, that you reside so far above it that your ideas are entitled to be shielded from contradiction upon pain of imprisonment? The amount of self-regard required for that is staggering to me.
Reading this, it would seem logical to suppose that Greenwald’s solidarity with the staff of Charlie Hebdo could be taken for granted. The magazine has, after all, dedicated itself to mocking religious and political pieties, and its attackers, Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, were surely guilty of the self-regard for which Greenwald expresses such vehement contempt. They considered themselves to be emissaries of God, no less (or – more directly – His fanatical, self-appointed earthbound representatives in Yemen), and sought to shield their beliefs from precisely the kind of criticism and ridicule which eventually cause such cherished dogmas to collapse.
Instead, as Sam Harris noted, the blood had scarcely dried on the walls of Charlie Hebdo‘s offices before Greenwald published a furious article at the Intercept, reviling the magazine for its alleged racism and pouring scorn on its defenders. That his misreading of Charlie Hebdo demonstrated a profound ignorance of their material and a dismal inability to parse satire ought to have been beside the point. After all, as Greenwald was at pains to remind his readers, he has spent much of his life defending the freedom of people to express views he abhors.
But while he was careful to include a perfunctory, throat-clearing defence of Charlie Hebdo’s narrow right to ridicule Islam, Greenwald’s more pressing concern was the denigration of people murdered for publishing cartoons offensive to their assassins. More telling still was the corresponding absence of any criticism of Al Qaeda’s pitiless death squad. Beliefs held to be unchallengeable by Islamic fundamentalists (but wildly irrational by the rest of us) were, it seems, to be exempted from the evolutionary process after all. This is all because Greenwald’s commitment to free speech is subject to a couple of slippery caveats, which make it rather more porous than he likes to pretend.
He had hinted at Caveat One with a couple of lawyerly qualifications buried in the paean to counter-orthodoxy quoted above. Dissent, he had argued, should not be barred “by the force of law” nor ideas shielded “on pain of imprisonment.” In other words, as far as Greenwald is concerned, the only meaningful kind of censorship – and the only kind worth opposing – is that mandated by the state, thereby excluding the kind imposed by terror and carried out by non-state actors like the Kouachis.
In 2013, Greenwald had argued that the whole idea of hate speech is simply a culturally- and historically-specific instrument for preserving the status quo. By 2015 – apparently unaware that he sounded exactly like those he had previously taken such pleasure in attacking – he was complaining that “some of Charlie Hebdo‘s cartoons were not just offensive but bigoted.”
Had the French authorities shared this judgement, Greenwald would doubtless have ridden to the magazine’s defence. In 2008, he had written in defence of Ezra Levant, who was being investigated by the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission for republishing the Danish cartoons of Muhammad in the Canadian neoconservative periodical Western Standard. “Here,” Greenwald had announced, “are the noxious fruits of hate speech laws,” and he found them to be “nothing short of stomach-churning.”
But the French state – which makes a clear distinction between anti-clericalism and racial hatred – did not share Greenwald’s assessment of Charlie Hebdo; the magazine has never fallen foul of France’s hate speech laws, the very existence of which Greenwald denounces as unacceptably draconian.
As it happens, I agree with Greenwald that state-sponsored hate speech laws are deplorable and reactionary, no matter how well-intended. But at least Levant is still alive to speak in his own defence. And in democracies like France and Canada, court verdicts can be appealed and overturned; bad laws can be repealed; and journalists like Greenwald can inveigh against those responsible for both from their pulpits at Salon and the Guardian.
Why then does Greenwald’s stomach also not churn for the victims of state censorship in, say, Russia, Venezuela, Iran, or the Palestinian territories? Journalists in such states enjoy none of the rights and protections afforded by liberal democracies, and yet, on the subject of state repression in unfree societies, Greenwald is conspicuously silent.
This brings us to Caveat Two, which is that Greenwald’s governing principle is not the absolute defence of free expression, but an absolute opposition to democratic governments, which he presumes to be motivated by authoritarianism, mendacity, and self-serving hypocrisy in every instance. For Greenwald, Western power and Zionism are the only enemies worthy of his critical attention; forces of unparalleled cynicism and cruelty against which all resistance, no matter how vicious and sadistic, must be indulgently understood.
So, when Ezra Levant is investigated for re-publishing anti-Islamic cartoons, it is evidence of the stomach-churning intolerance of the Canadian state; when Charlie Hebdo is not, it is evidence of the thoroughgoing racism of France:
[Charlie Hebdo‘s] messaging – this special affection for offensive anti-Islam speech – just so happens to coincide with, to feed, the militaristic foreign policy agenda of their governments and culture.
By the same token, Greenwald may be wholly ignorant of Mali’s history and politics, but once the French government announced military intervention there to halt jihadist violence, his position on the matter was as entirely predictable as it was entirely uninformed.
I have never found any reason to suspect that Greenwald is remotely interested in understanding the complex considerations that inform Western foreign policy decisions. Nor have I found any reason to suspect that he is interested in investigating or understanding Islamist ideology. He finds it more convenient to prejudge the former as invariably malevolent, and the latter as invariably reactive.
Such reductionism has the benefit of being instantly applicable in any given scenario, thereby removing the need for reflection, informed analysis, and independent thought. But it also comes burdened with considerable dangers, not least among which is the corollary belief that anyone attacking the West by word or deed is doing so with good reason. And this assumption has frequently left Greenwald well-disposed towards the arguments of authoritarian governments (so long as they are enemies of the West) and non-state actors hostile to the whole notion of liberal democracy.
Greenwald is never less than proud to acknowledge the considerable time he has spent as a litigator and writer defending the right of neo-Nazis to air their views. For a truly principled free speech activist, there would be no shame in that. But his condemnation of their beliefs often feels somewhat pro forma, and certainly pales next to the contempt he expresses for their enemies.
In 1999, for instance, a member of Matthew F. Hale’s white supremacist World Church of the Creator went on an interstate shooting spree that left two people dead and nine injured. A New York-based NGO called The Centre for Constitutional Rights filed suit against Hale and his Church on behalf of one of the victims, alleging them to be partly culpable. Explaining his decision to represent Hale, Greenwald objected that “all [the complainants] can say Matt Hale did is express the view that Jews and blacks are inferior. There’s just no question that expressing those views is a core First Amendment activity.” Well, okay. But, gratuitously, he then added: “I find that the people behind these lawsuits are truly so odious and repugnant, that creates its own motivation for me.” Hale, incidentally, was later convicted of attempting to solicit the murder of a district court judge and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
I sometimes get the feeling that Greenwald – an openly gay Jew – harbours a not-altogether grudging respect for unapologetic fascists. He sympathises with their marginalisation just as he would with any underdog; but he also seems to find their ideological certainty appealing, even if every dot and comma is not exactly to his taste. And he has sympathy to spare for any professions of hatred for Israel, no matter how inflammatory or defamatory those professions may be.
The undisguised pleasure Greenwald takes in the frisson of antisemitic provocation is what’s most striking about his Charlie Hebdo article. “To comport with this new principle for how one shows solidarity with free speech rights and a vibrant free press,” he jeered childishly, “we’re publishing some blasphemous and otherwise offensive cartoons about religion and their adherents…” (Notice, by the way, the casual diffusion of responsibility in his use of the first person plural here.)
What followed was a gruesome selection of cartoons, not one of which could reasonably be described as blasphemous or anti-clerical, and every one of which relied upon classical antisemitic conspiracist tropes about malevolent Jewish power and influence.
This was in turn followed by a comparably awful selection of cartoons by the notorious Arab-Brazilian artist Carlos Latuff, for whom Greenwald has expressed his unequivocal admiration. Latuff’s depictions of the Zionist octopus and of blood-drenched, genocidal Jews are frequently indistinguishable from those circulated in pre-war Europe, so it was no surprise to discover a lengthy comment below Greenwald’s article from former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, which he concluded with this:
Thank You Mr. Greenwald for being courageous enough to dare to expose hypocrisy and racism wherever it is found even among the chosen few [who] have enormous power.
Duke’s use of the term “chosen” here was not, I suspect, accidental. When Greenwald complained in his article that Charlie Hebdo had fired a cartoonist for antisemitism, or when he protested on twitter about the arrest of the Holocaust denier Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, there was little evidence he felt their racism merited much in the way of condemnation. On the contrary, what really bothered him seemed to be the suspicion that Jews were getting special protection they did not deserve. In an ugly coincidence, Greenwald’s Intercept article appeared on 9 January – the same day that the Kouachi brothers’ associate, Amedy Coulibaly, murdered four Jews in a Parisian Hypercacher kosher food superette at Porte de Vincennes.
Given Glenn Greenwald’s prodigious contempt for the West, his impulsive sympathy for its enemies, and his generous indulgence of Jew hatred, his emergence as one of America’s most vehement Islamist fellow travellers was a forseeable development. And it is in their name that he has offered some of his most passionate arguments for free expression.
To take one example: when Tarek Mehanna, an Al Qaeda affiliate, was convicted in 2012 of translating jihadist material and conspiring to commit murder in a foreign country (that of American soldiers in Iraq), Greenwald responded by writing:
I believe history will be quite clear about who the actual criminals are in this case: not Mehanna, but rather the architects of the policies he felt compelled to battle and the entities that have conspired to consign him to a cage for two decades.
I rather doubt that, although time will tell, I suppose. But Greenwald then went even further and described the statement Mehanna delivered at his sentencing hearing (a masterwork of bad faith which he reproduced in full) as “incredibly eloquent [and] thoughtful.” It was, he enthused, “something quite amazing.” While Greenwald had taken care to record his disgust with Ezra Levant’s neoconservative views as he defended Levant’s right to express them, Mehanna was not just exonerated but eulogised without equivocation.
That Levant is a democrat, while Mehanna is the footsoldier for an antisemitic totalitarian ideology counts for little, it seems. Beholden to a worldview in which Islamists are only victims and never victimisers, Greenwald preferred to assume that because Mehanna also loathes American foreign policy and the Zionist entity, and because he also considers liberal democracy to be a hoax, he is in fact an ally of some description.
So what then are we to make of Greenwald’s involvement in the Snowden leak, for which Eisenberg insisted he be honoured at the expense of the Charlie Hebdo dead?
It is possible, I think, for reasonable people to disagree about the value of what Snowden disclosed, and the merits of his actions. But any serious assessment of either needs to take account of the enormous harm done to American credibility, diplomacy, and security as the US government struggles to contain the spread of jihadist terror and to defend its soldiers and citizens. The most generous reading of Snowden’s actions recognises this as collateral damage inflicted in pursuit of a greater libertarian good.
But Glenn Greenwald will make no such allowance. On the contrary, he has taken undisguised satisfaction in the havoc Snowden’s NSA leaks have caused, not least because he believes that the war on terror presently being waged against jihadist fanatics like Tarek Mehanna and the Kouachi brothers is a monstrous injustice. In the ongoing battle between democracy and religious totalitarianism, Greenwald has defiantly taken the side of the latter.
So, Greenwald’s condemnation of Charlie Hebdo‘s murdered staff was – like his position on pretty much everything – tediously predictable, and it rested on a refusal to perceive the rather large difference between fascism and its antithesis. For someone who postures as a First Amendment absolutist, this is a considerable moral failure.
But Eisenberg nominated Greenwald in Charlie Hebdo’s stead, not in spite of such views, but precisely because of them. In their own minds, the PEN dissenters were taking a courageous, principled, and nostalgic stand: courageous in its refusal to be swept along by liberal moral orthodoxy; principled in its rejection of sentimentality; and nostalgic in its defiant celebration of 1968’s once-uncompromising anti-Imperialism.
It didn’t matter that many of the murdered staff at Charlie Hebdo were themselves soixante-huitard veterans of the New Left, nor that they had retained the New Left’s anti-authoritarianism, its reflexive sympathy for the Palestinian cause, and its hatred of the unreconstructed nationalist far-right. For their refusal to qualify their mockery of radical Islam with an acknowledgment of its value in the fight against Zionism, Western racism, neoliberalism, foreign policy, and all the rest of it, they were deemed guilty of selling out their own radical spirit of ’68. And for lending their assistance to a ‘narrative’ (as one of the PEN dissenters termed it) that serves a baleful Western agenda, they were denounced.
The idea that Glenn Greenwald knows anything about the spirit of ’68 fills me with scepticism. I suspect he could hardly care less. But his inchoate rage against the West was useful to Eisenberg and her allies even so. Greenwald may be applauded by the likes of David Duke for circulating Jew-hatred; he may defend theo-fascists and neo-Nazis and denounce their opponents with rather more enthusiasm than is either seemly or necessary; and he may observe a shabby silence about the repression of dissent in authoritarian and theocratic states. But he may be judged to have “fastidiously exercised his courage for the good of humanity” just the same because, like Deborah Eisenberg and the rest of the self-regarding PEN dissenters, what actually fires his perverse moral disgust is not the threat to liberty and free speech posed by lethal theocratic terror, but the war being waged by the West to defeat it.
Jamie Palmer is a writer and film-maker. Read more of his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @jacobinism
Above: 9/11 commemoration, Paris 2011
Peter Wilby, writing in his First Thoughts column in the present edition of the New Statesman:
“In the wake of mass murder, comparisons may seem otiose and probably also distasteful. But the atrocities in Paris will, I suspect, disturb most Europeans more than the 9/11 atrocities in the US, even though the casualties were many fewer. It is not just that Paris is closer than New York and Washington DC. The 2001 attacks were on symbols of US global capitalism and military hegemony. The victims were mostly people working in them. This did not in any way excuse the gang of criminals who carried out the attacks. But is was possible, at least, to comprehend what may have been going through their twisted minds and the minds of those who sponsored and assisted them.
“The Paris attacks were different. France, to be sure, is a nuclear-armed capitalist state willing to flex its military muscles according to principles that are not always clear to outsiders. But this was not an attack on its political, military or financial centres. It was on people of various ethnicities and nationalities on a Friday night out, watching football, enjoying a concert, eating, drinking and chatting in restaurants and bars in a city that is famed (admittedly not always justly) for romance, enlightenment and culture. That is what makes these attacks so shocking…”
So it is “possible …to comprehend” the mass killing of cleaners, office workers and (yes) financiers in the Twin Towers (and the many civilian workers in the Pentagon) because of where they worked – but not the deaths of “people of various ethnicities and nationalities” (so the 9/11 victims were all white Americans?) seeking “romance, enlightenment and culture” (concepts alien to the 9/11 victims, of course) in Paris?
Later on in his piece Wilby states that it is wrong to resort to “glib attempts to explain what drives men to kill indiscriminately.” Yet he seems to be able to “explain” 9/11. So perhaps, according to Wilby, Paris was “indiscriminate” but not New York or Washington?
The editorial of the New Statesman of 17 September, 2001 appeared to blame Americans themselves for the 9/11 attacks — for “preferring George Bush to Al Gore and both to Ralph Nader”: the editor of the New Statesman at the time was one Peter Wilby.
By Clive Bradley (via Facebook):
For what they’re worth, my feelings about Paris, etc. Friday was personally upsetting because Paris is a city I know quite well: I’ve never been to the Bataclan, but for sure I’ve walked past it. I have friends in Paris. Elia and I have been to Paris for our anniversary in the past. It brings it home to me in a way which – to be honest – other recent atrocities don’t.
The reason for posting now, though, is that I’m frustrated by some of what I’m seeing in social media and in the news about the politics of this. It’s horrific to see the racist, nationalistic, xenophobic nonsense spouted in some quarters. It seems to me the single most important thing we have to do to fight ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh is fight for the rights of migrants and refugees, both because what Daesh want is to stir up Islamophobia and other kinds of hate – that’s the aim of the attacks – and because genuine democracy, equality and freedom are the real weapons in any meaningful struggle against terrorism and religious fascism.
It’s true, of course, as some of my friends have pointed out, that a big factor in explaining the rise of Daesh is Western intervention in the Middle East. Indeed, French colonialism played a particularly appalling role in the Middle East and Arab world more generally (Algeria). If you had to pick a moment when the fuse was lit which led to the current crisis, I think it might have been when the French kicked Faisal out of Damascus just after World War One (the British gave him Iraq as a consolation), thus preventing the independent state the Arabs had been promised in the war against the Turks. (This is one reason among many I won’t update my status with a French flag – or indeed any national flag).
But what events like Paris, and Beirut, and Baghdad (many times) and everything that’s been happening in Syria (and Libya), and so on – and on – show is that Daesh nevertheless has to be fought. Their chilling statement about the Paris attacks – Paris as a den of perversion, and so forth – brings home that I, for instance, am a target of their hate. Everything I stand for and everything I am. How, then, to fight them?
Sadly, they won’t go away just because we don’t retaliate by bombing them. The single greatest victory against them in recent weeks was the retaking of Sinjar by the Kurds (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p037klpq).
To fight Daesh/IS, we should give the Kurds, the main military force opposing them on the ground with an agenda of democracy and human rights (ie not the murderous Assad regime), all the support we can.
But the uncomfortable fact is that the Kurds won this battle with US military air support. So maybe not all Western intervention is bad; or at least, if the Kurds want it and need it, shouldn’t we do what they want? And while Western intervention has mainly had disastrous consequences – the Iraq war being only the most obvious example – Western non-intervention in Syria has been pretty disastrous, too. We need to face the fact that this stuff is difficult. I’m not, here, advocating anything, just pointing out the complexity.
And there’s another question to do with Western ‘involvement’ which is harder to tackle. Daesh is the product of Western involvement up to a point; but it is much more directly the product of Saudi Arabia. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…/isis-wahhabism-saudi-arabia…). A big thing the West could do to fight Daesh is break links with Saudi Arabia – but of course this they don’t want to do for obvious reasons, namely oil. The very least they could do is not promote Saudi Arabia as ‘moderate’ or champions of human rights. But in fact, something much more profound in the way the Western world works needs to change (and for sure this will have consequences in my own little bit of it).
Another thing we could do is challenge ‘our’ NATO ally, Turkey, who have been consistently more concerned to subvert the Kurds than to fight Daesh, and whose repression of the Kurds, which of course has long historical roots, is now deepening again. (I posted this the other day: https://www.change.org/p/david-cameron-mp-end-the-siege-of-…).
Just some thoughts. No conclusions. Might try to go back to sleep.
Kurds take Sinjar from the Islamic State group
I had just been to a club for the first time. I drank vodka and I drank beer. I stayed at a friend’s flat near Baker Street that night and we walked back there together in the dark. The streets were wet from a downpour we had missed while inside. It always rains in London.
We arrived back to his place where his mother told us Rabin had been shot. I knew of him vaguely as an Israeli politician, the President or the Prime Minister of Israel, I wasn’t sure.
In death he influenced me more than in life he ever could have. In one way or another modern Israel is dominated by the man who was shot in Tel Aviv while I was enjoying my first tastes of alcohol in London. Every negotiation since, every war since has been devoid of any hope, any real belief that the result will be anything other than more of what lay before. Everything stands in contrast to the hopes of the generation that elected Rabin their Prime Minister.
While the current crop of leaders fall over themselves to pretend that the man who disagreed with them on just about every level was actually their friend I wonder what happened to the traits of leadership embodied by Yitzhak Rabin. People too easily ignore the fact that he was the most hated Prime Minister in the short history of the country. His course towards peace was one that far more people than just Yigal Amir sought to disrupt. People came to his house to hurl insults at him and his family, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to express their hatred of him for sitting down at the peace table with Yassir Arafat and countenancing the creation of a state of Palestine.
And he ignored them all. For me this old, chain smoking, man embodied the term courage. He was elected to lead the country and lead the country he did. It may have been an unpopular policy but when you are elected to office you take the responsibilities on your shoulders to do what you feel is best for the country, not what is popular. The people can then decide at the next election.
This kind of leadership is sorely lacking right now. The people can’t decide because there is no clear policy, too much obfuscation and not enough people willing to stand up and be clear about what a vote for them means. For me Rabin’s legacy is that which he died for, the willingness to stand at helm of the ship and set sail in a clear direction.
Now, in 2015, no one knows where we are, we don’t even know if we’re going through an Intifada or not and we don’t know how we’re going to get out of it if we’re in it.
Great acts of leadership throughout the ages have always been turbulent. Be it John F Kennedy insisting on integration in Alabama or Winston Churchill telling the British people he has “nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” or Ben Gurion declaring statehood with the knowledge that a war would follow for which Israel was ill equipped to fight. Leadership requires people to take responsibility on their shoulders for making decisions that will affect the lives of their citizens intimately. Rabin was such a leader.
He was killed for being such a leader.
Rabin’s legacy will always be a tragic legacy. But the tragedy is not that he was killed before the peace fell upon us, nor even for the fact that he fell at the hands of a fellow Jew. The real tragedy is that he is fast being revered as the only man who possibly could have brought peace to Israel. If that is true then it is a sad reflection of the state of Israel’s leadership today. If it is false then it is a lie not worthy of the man who guided the state through so many of the tests that defined the nation of Israel.
20 years have gone by since he died, more than enough time for those who took on the mantle of leadership of the party he once headed to get their act together. The man who sold Israel on the hope of peace was murdered and now his successors lack the courage to tell Israelis the truth about the lessons learned the night Israel’s innocence died.
To tell them that there will be no end to extremism or to terrorism but that it can be an occasional heartache or a constant war. It can involve the suffering of millions or it can involve the suffering of hundreds. There’ll be no signature on a piece of paper that will end the terror, no ceremony on the White House lawn and no handshake that will make everything okay.
It will be a long struggle for peace but a struggle that we must embark on nonetheless. The alternative is more of the same nothing we have now.
It is a tragedy of the Middle East that the fate of millions lies not with elected governments but with a very few people willing to give their lives to kill others. The man who killed Rabin was willing to give up his life not just to kill his Prime Minister but to kill the hopes of so many. Now another Israeli Prime Minister is weighing up whether to remove the residency rights of 80,000 people because of the actions of several dozen. A war was started in Gaza last year because three boys were kidnapped and murdered by a couple of terrorists.
Israelis and Palestinians live their lives in the shadow of these people.
Rabin was a leader who wasn’t prepared to hand over his elected mandate to the few prepared for violence. Now it is the terrorists who control the agenda and an Israeli government flailing around trying to keep up.
It’s been 20 years since a great man of the Israeli left was shot dead in the street. He preferred to risk being shot dead if it meant doing what he thought was best for the country. There hasn’t been another leader like him since, there hasn’t been a braver one since. So long after the event I don’t mourn for Rabin, I mourn for the Israel that might have been had he been allowed to live just a little longer and the Israel we became without his guiding hand.
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.