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.
Putin arrives to speak at a meeting in the Grand Kremlin Palace
Commentators in the mainstream media generally seem unclear about Putin’s strategic objective in Syria – some even claim he hasn’t really got one. Putin, they say, is a brilliant tactician but a poor strategist: keeping the west guessing by springing surprises (as in Eastern Ukraine) is an end in itself, but he has no long-term game plan.
Julian Borger, in a quite well-informed piece in yesterday’s Guardian subscribes to this view, noting that
“What appears to be unfolding goes beyond stabilising Bashar al-Assad’s regime. It looks like an effort, in coordination with Syrian and Iranian-backed ground troops, to inflict a lasting military defeat on the rebel coalition which had succeeded in carving out a growing patch of territory in the north-east.
“Although conducted under the banner of a campaign against Islamic State, the evidence suggests that the overwhelming majority of Russian targets have been non-Isis groups, some of them supported by the US, others by Turkey and the Gulf states”
This, you would have thought, gives us a very strong clue as to what Putin’s objective is, but Borger doesn’t seem to see it, concluding his piece thus:
“Putin’s mastery of surprise has put him in the driving seat, but there is little sign so far he knows where he’s going.”
Oh no? I should have thought it’s obvious: destroy the democratic non-Isis opposition forces so that the only significant forces in Syria are Assad and ISIS, thus facing the west with a stark choice, based upon the facts on the ground, as created by Russian imperialism: Assad or Isis? And to fight Isis, you’ll have to do a deal with me, on my terms. It has been reported by a credible source that to achieve this end, Putin has been boosting Isis by encouraging radicalised Russian Muslims to travel to Syria
Mark Leonard, in the current New Statesman spells it out in an excellent article that’s not yet available online (I’ll provide a link when it is). Here’s a key section:
Vladamir Putin’s military intervention is is less about defeating Isis than about establishing himself as the ultimate counter-revolutionary leader.
There is a parallel between Putin’s plans for Syria and the long war he fought in Chechnya from 1999 to 2009. The first war in Chechnya, from 1994 to 1996, was between a moderate, largely secular opposition and the Russian state.
In order to win the second conflict, however, the Kremlin started to marginalise the moderates – starting with the legitimate president Aslan Maskhadov – while at the same time helping the factions that did not obey Maskhadov, and which committed kidnappings and were linked to the Middle East. Then, after the 9/11 attacks, Putin sold the Chechnya war to the west as “a common struggle with Islamic terrorism.” In Syria, a similar dynamic was already in motion – Islamist groups having gained the upper hand over the moderate rebels of the Free Syrian Army who helped launch the revolution in 2011 – but now Putin is accelerating it, using familiar tactics.
Russian planes have been targeting all of the anti-Assad groups to ensure that there is no strong, non-ISIS opposition. At the same time it appears as though Moscow has been actively helping Isis to swell its ranks. A report in the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta claimed that officers of Putin’s FSB (state security) have encouraged radicalised Muslims from Russia, and particularly the North Caucasus, to go to Syria, opening a “green channel” for travel that has made it possible for at least 2,400 fighters to make the journey (another 2,600 jihadis from central Asia are also believed to be in Syria). The newspaper claims that Russian agents are actively handing out special passports to jihadis to make it easier for them to travel.
As for Putin’s underlying -“philosophical” if you like – motivation, Leonard is equally clear and (for me, at least) convincing:
His biggest fear, I think, is not of colour revolutions in Damascus, nor even in Kyiv. It is of one taking place in Moscow. Putin is still haunted by the winter protests of 2012 that were provoked by his return to the Kremlin as president for a third term.
Much of his foreign policy since has been driven by this experience. In February 2014, when Yanukovych was hounded into exile by protesters in Ukraine, Putin feared he could be vulnerable. If his Syrian gamble does pay off, it might just force the west to realise the benefits of autocratic stability.
NB: this confirms my analysis: ‘Isis seizes ground from Aleppo rebels under cover of Russian airstrikes’.
Paul Canning: ‘Russia painting Crimea’s Tatars as ‘ISIS supporters”
Nicola Sturgeon and other female politicians have objected to the cover of the present issue of the New Statesman:
17-23rd July Issue
But is it the crassest ever New Statesman
cover? Possibly not. Remember this
, from 14 January 2002?
Having just read this (in the present edition of the New Statesman):
“Right now, there may not be much to vote for but there’s plenty to vote against. Go out and vote, if you can stand it, and I hope you can. Vote in disgust. Vote in despair. If I see you at the polling station with a grin on your face, I will worry, unless you have the good fortune to be Scottish. Vote against bigotry, hatred and fear. Vote today and change the world tomorrow. We are not as powerless as they would have us believe. Choose your enemy and choose wisely. Good luck.”
… a number of thoughts occur to me:
1/ OK: she’s (relatively) young … but on the other hand is being paid as a “political” commentator by the NS;
2/ The NS expects us to take seriously someone who writes: “I endorsed the Liberal Democrats in 2010, a fact that tops the long list of stupid things I did in my early twenties, but the feeling of hope was genuine and so was the pain of betrayal”;
2/ The NS, for all its faults, was once a journal that advocated positive socialist political engagement, not nihilism combined with vicarious Scottish nationalism;
3/ I’ll now be starting a “most stupid comment about the election” competition. So far, Laurie Penny’s in the lead, but there’s still time to go! Feel free to nominate.
Cover Story: “How Islamic is Islamic State?”
Mehdi Hasan argues that the Quran cannot be blamed for violent political extremism
No true Scotsman
is an informal fallacy
, an ad hoc
attempt to retain an unreasoned assertion. When faced with a counterexample
to a universal
claim (“no Scotsman would do such a thing”), rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original universal claim, this fallacy modifies the subject of the assertion to exclude the specific case or others like it by rhetoric
, without reference to any specific objective rule (“no true
Scotsman would do such a thing”
A simple rendition of the fallacy:
- Person A: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
- Person B: “But my uncle Angus likes sugar with his porridge.”
- Person A: “Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
Mehdi’s article is here … so you can judge for yourself
A Palestinian wearing a Santa Claus costume is confronted by an Israeli soldier at a demo near Bethlehem
Christmas is, at its best, a time of good will to all peoples regardless of creed. But it is also, unfortunately, an excuse for antisemitism – a form of bigotry that Christianity has fostered for over 2000 years and successfully passed on to Islam.
Mehdi Hasan (who I do not believe is consciously antisemitic), for instance, uses Christmas as an opportunity to launch into one-sided and in some respects, factually inaccurate attack on Israel (tracing its original sin back to its creation in 1948), in an article for the Huffington Post (where he is political editor), also carried in the current New Statesman.
Sean Matgamna wrote about this sort of Christian-inspired antisemitism fifteen years ago, in a piece introducing an excerpt from Karl Kautsky’s The Foundations of Christianity. I reproduce Sean’s 1999 piece below:
2000 years of anti-Jewish lies
In the last few years, undisguised anti-semitism has again become a force in Europe, especially in Russia and the east. It has re-emerged both in its racist, zoological, 19th century form, and in its earlier Christian, “native Russian”, form.
Why does this happen? Why, again and again, in one form or another, time after time, does Jew-baiting become a force in history? There are always “immediate” historical reasons, but one central, continuous, underlying “cultural” reason is this: anti-semitism is threaded into the very fabric of Europe’s 2000-year-old Christian civilisation.
Christianity is saturated with anti-semitism. The Christian New Testament is one of the main documents of historical anti-semitism.
As the classic Marxist writer Karl Kautsky shows in the excerpt from his book The Foundations of Christianity […] the New Testament writers set out, deliberately and systematically, to demonise the Jews and foment hatred against them as the murderers of Christ. They did it by inventing fantastic and self-contradictory tales about the death of Christ.
The events he analyses are set 2000 years ago in Roman-occupied Judea. The vast Roman Empire united Europe, much of North Africa, and parts of Asia. The Judeans resisted Roman rule fiercely. While the upper classes tended to make peace, the people refused. The Jews were divided into parties and factions – Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots. Eventually, in 70 AD, the Romans razed the city of Jerusalem to the ground, completing the dispersal of the Jews, who already had settlements all over the empire.
The early Christians were one sect of Jews, feeling sectarian hatred towards the others. As time wore on, the dominant Christian faction, led by Paul of Tarsus, ceased to be Jews, no longer, for example, requiring converts to be circumcised. By the time the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written, decades after the events they purport to depict, the antagonism between Christian and Jew was very bitter.
Christianity grew stronger in the next 300 years, until it became a mighty power in the ossifying Roman Empire. At the beginning of the fourth century Christianity became the official religion of the empire, and its priesthood merged with the immensely powerful bureaucracy of the Roman state. Over time it got to the position of not having to tolerate other religions, or Christian factions other than the dominant one.
Thereafter, the New Testament and its stories, ideas and motifs became, for well over a thousand years, the main subject of art and literature.
Many dozens of generations of children were drilled in the New Testament’s malignant tales, presented as the word of God. “Who condemned Jesus Christ to death?” went the question in the Catholic catechism which, until recently, children from the age of five or six learned by heart. The answer? “Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, did it at the desire of the Jews.” Recently the Catholic Church has “exonerated” the Jews of guilt for Jesus Christ’s death – 2000 years and many millions of victims too late. An imaginary parallel will make the point clearer. Suppose that our own civilisation has broken down, as that of Rome did in the fifth and sixth centuries in Western Europe. Most of the survivors regress to subsistence farming. Literacy is almost lost, becoming the special expertise of ideologising monks and priests.
Most of our great books of learning and science are lost. Those we have saved acquire great authority in a world where scientific observation and experimentation have gone out of fashion, and where venerable authority is again, as in the Middle Ages, considered sufficient. One of the books which survives, preserved by its devotees, is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This book purports to be a Jewish account of Jewish plans to take over the world. It was forged early this century by the Okhrana, the political police of ultra-Christian Tsarist Russia.
It recast the traditional Christian Jew-hatred, with which Tsarist Russia was saturated, into a venomous modern political fantasy. It has had immense influence in this century. It has rightly been called a “warrant for genocide”.
Suppose then that in our imaginary world, thrown back to the level of barbarism, a new religion takes shape, a sort of primitive evangelical neo-Christianity, organised by a powerful caste of priests. It worships, as one of its central “holy books”, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
And then, as society evolves and develops over many hundreds of years, slowly redeveloping a civilisation, generation after generation would learn the divine truth concocted by the Okhrana policemen. It would form the subject of paintings and literature and drama. When a new Enlightenment arose, and drove this nonsense off the highways of intellectual life, it would survive as prejudice and folk-wisdom. Living Jews and their behaviour would be judged not according to everybody else’s standards, but according to the patterns of malevolence outlined in the Protocols.
This fiction is horribly close to the true story of our civilisation and its development. The New Testament – with whose vicious anti-Jewish libels we are so familiar that they can and do go unnoticed – has down the centuries been the warrant for generations and ages of anti-semitism in Eastern Europe and Russia.
The Stalinist rulers did not fight anti-semitism but fomented it. They took Christian anti-semitism and wove it into their “Protocols”, according to which the great evil conspiracy is not Jewish exactly, but “Zionist”, and centred on Israel. Many on the left, misled by their justified and proper sympathy with the Palestinian Arabs who are in conflict with the Jewish state of Israel, uncritically accept this Stalinist reworking of the old anti-Semitism.
Karl Kautsky’s detailed analysis of the anti-semitism threaded into the New Testament, and therefore at the heart of 2000 years of European civilisation, is part of the necessary antidote to this poison, which, in its “anti-Zionist” mask, still infects much of the left today.
The ‘No True Scotsman’ Fallacy:
The No True Scotsman fallacy is a way of reinterpreting evidence in order to prevent the refutation of one’s position. Proposed counter-examples to a theory are dismissed as irrelevant solely because they are counter-examples, but purportedly because they are not what the theory is about.
The No True Scotsman fallacy involves discounting evidence that would refute a proposition, concluding that it hasn’t been falsified when in fact it has.
If Angus, a Glaswegian, who puts sugar on his porridge, is proposed as a counter-example to the claim “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge”, the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy would run as follows:
(1) Angus puts sugar on his porridge.
(2) No (true) Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
(3) Angus is not a (true) Scotsman.
(4) Angus is not a counter-example to the claim that no Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
This fallacy is a form of circular argument, with an existing belief being assumed to be true in order to dismiss any apparent counter-examples to it. The existing belief thus becomes unfalsifiable.
An argument similar to this is often arises when people attempt to define religious groups. In some Christian groups, for example, there is an idea that faith is permanent, that once one becomes a Christian one cannot fall away. Apparent counter-examples to this idea, people who appear to have faith but subsequently lose it, are written off using the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy: they didn’t really have faith, they weren’t true Christians. The claim that faith cannot be lost is thus preserved from refutation. Given such an approach, this claim is unfalsifiable, there is no possible refutation of it.
‘When he lived in the Philippines in the 1990s, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, described as “the principal architect” of the 11 September attacks by the 9/11 Commission, once flew a helicopter past a girlfriend’s office building with a banner saying “I love you”. His nephew Ramzi Yousef, sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, also had a girlfriend and, like his uncle, was often spotted in Manila’s red-light district. The FBI agent who hunted Yousef said that he “hid behind a cloak of Islam”. Eyewitness accounts suggest the 9/11 hijackers were visiting bars and strip clubs in Florida and Las Vegas in the run-up to the attacks. The Spanish neighbours of Hamid Ahmidan, convicted for his role in the Madrid train bombings of 2004, remember him “zooming by on a motorcycle with his long-haired girlfriend, a Spanish woman with a taste for revealing outfits”, according to press reports.’
Here’s something you won’t often read at Shiraz or hear from me: I recommend you to buy this week’s New Statesman.
Perhaps intended to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day, the current issue carries two articles on anti-Semitism: Anthony Clavane on anti-Semitism and the left, and Andrew Hussey on Dieudonné and the re-emergence of the “negationist” tradition in French politics. Both are very informative and well-argued pieces, but their real significance is that they appear in the New Statesman at all. In recent years the magazine’s anti-Zionism has often taken on a strident tone and in the case of regular contributor John Pilger, veered dangerously close to outright anti-Semitism. And, of course, back in 2002, under then-editor Peter Wilby, the magazine brought out its infamous “A kosher conspiracy” edition. An apology was eventually extracted from an initially defiant Wilby, but the wretched man continues to contribute a regular column.
The present issue is not yet available online, so I’m reproducing an excerpt from Clavane’s piece, including a reference to the “A kosher conspiracy” row:
Criticising Israel, as many Jews do, and Zionism as an ideology, which a much smaller number but still a significant minority of the community does, are perfectly valid positions. Publishing an anti-Zionist cover story featuring a golden Star of David stabbing a pliant Union flag with the headline “A kosher conspiracy?”, as the New Statesman (then under different ownership and editorship) did in 2002, is not. It should not have to be spelled out, though this magazine’s then editor did so in a subsequent apology, that all principled critics of Israeli policies should avoid using anti-Semitic images and narratives. They should not, as the BBC’s Tim Llewellyn once did, accuse American politicians such as Dennis Ross of hiding behind “a lovely Anglo-Saxon name”. (Llewellyn went on to say that Ross is “not just a Jew, he is a Zionist … a Zionist propagandist”.) They should have no truck with vile anti-Jewish calumnies, including the blood-libel slur, routinely rehearsed in anti-Zionist Arab textbooks.
“The Zionist lobby,” Dieudonné told the Iranian-funded Press TV, “have taken France as hostage and we are in the hands of ignorant people, who know how to structure themselves into a Mafia-like organisation and…have now taken over the country.”
As Dave Rich at the Community Security Trust, a charity that monitors anti-Jewish attacks in Britain, explains: “this is not the anti-Zionism of people who think that the Palestinians get a raw deal from Israel: it is the anti-Zionism of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a conspiracy theory that believes Jews pull all the strings.”
“We need to keep things in perspective,” warns David Feldman, of the Pears institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism. “we have experienced the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, with Jews prominent in many places [in finance]. Yet in contrast to the situation 80 years ago, few radicals have proposed anti-Semitic explanations.”
As Jonathan Freedland, who writes a weekly column in the Guardian and a monthly column in the Jewish Chronicle, points out, so far only “a few marginal political voices” on the British left have flirted with anti-Semitic tropes. However, after a property website owned by a Jewish businessman withdrew its sponsorship of West Brom on 20 January, and then the FA announced it was charging Anelka, the liberal-left commentariat was presented with a perfect opportunity to take a stand against such tropes. Yet more silence. In fact, it was left to the right-wing controversialist Rod Liddle to condemn the striker’s “repulsive” support for his Jew-baiting friend.
“On this issue,” Freedland told me, “all anti-racists of good conscience should have leapt in. Dieudonné is aligned with the far right. He’s had criminal convictions for anti-Semitism. My worry is that, as time passed before the FA’s announcement and the lack of outrage continued, it didn’t send out a strong message about anti-Semitism
“The quenelle was a previously obscure gesture in this country and now it’s known. So this is the moment to make the point that no self-respecting person on the left should accept a supposedly ‘anti-establishment’ position which in fact says it’s the Jews who are ‘the establishment’.”
Anthony Clavane’s latest book is “Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?” (Quercus £6.99)
The present issue of the New Statesman carries a quite extraordinary example of special pleading and exaggerated claims of victimhood from the Catholic journalist and apologist Cristina Odone.
The starting-point for her long-winded whinge is the fact that a Christian organisation had difficulty finding a venue in London willing to accept a booking for a conference entitled “One Man. One Woman. Making the Case for Marriage for the Good of Society.” Both the Law Society and the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre cited their respective diversity policies as the reason for their refusals. Annoying for the organisers, undoubtedly. Excessive? Perhaps. But evidence of persecution (Odone doesn’t use that word, by the way, but it’s quite clearly what she means)? Don’t make me laugh.
If you can’t be arsed to follow the link above, here’s a representative taste of Odone’s pathetic bleating:
“Only 50 years ago, liberals supported “alternative culture”; they manned the barricades in protest against the establishment position on war, race and feminism. Today, liberals abhor any alternative to their credo. No one should offer an opinion that runs against the grain on issues that liberals consider “set in stone”, such as sexuality or the sanctity of life.
“Intolerance is no longer the prerogative of overt racists and other bigots – it is state-sanctioned. It is no longer the case that the authorities are impartial on matters of belief, and will intervene to protect the interests and heritage of the weak. When it comes to crushing the rights of those who dissent from the new orthodoxy, politicians and bureaucrats alike are in the forefront of the attacks, not the defence.
“I believe that religious liberty is meaningless if religious subcultures do not have the right to practise and preach according to their beliefs. These views – for example, on abortion, adoption, divorce, marriage, promiscuity and euthanasia – may be unfashionable. They certainly will strike many liberal-minded outsiders as harsh, impractical, outmoded, and irrelevant.
“But that is not the point. Adherents of these beliefs should not face life-ruining disadvantages. They should not have to close their businesses, as happened to the Christian couple who said only married heterosexual couples could stay at their bed and breakfast. They should not lose their jobs, which was the case of the registrar who refused to marry gays. When Britain was fighting for its life in the Second World War, it never forced pacifists to bear arms. So why force the closure of a Catholic adoption agency that for almost 150 years has placed some of society’s most vulnerable children with loving parents?”
You’d never guess, would you, that religious belief is given special protection under UK law (Section 10 of the Equality Act 2010, and the Employment Equality [Religion and Belief] Regulations 2003) in a way that, for instance, atheism is not. In fact, Zoe Williams, writing in today’s Graun, makes the point that atheists in Britain (and elsewhere) tend to lack the status and advantages taken for granted by the religious. She suggests an explanation that might help explain Odone’s shrill and self-righteous exercise in self-pity: “This systematic civil exclusion, I think, has rather shallow roots – not in a prejudice against the faithless, but in the loam of human politeness, where groups are accorded attention, respect and sensitivity in proportion to how much they will complain if they don’t get it. Something to think about heathens: maybe we are simply not complaining enough.”
Of course, there are many places in the world where religious people do suffer persecution – often by adherents of other religions. But nothing remotely like that happens in the UK, and anyone who suggests it does is either living in a paranoid fantasy world, or conducting a cynical exercise in bare-faced cheek. I’m not sure which category applies to Odone, but I’m damn sure one or the other does. Or maybe both.
Having watched, pondered and re-watched Paxman’s interview with comedian Russell Brand on last night’s Newsnight, I’m still not sure what to make of it. My initial response was that Brand is a pretentious, incoherent idiot, spouting a lot of pseudo-revolutionary hot air and half-digested anarchistic platitudes. But several people I’ve spoken to today told me they were impressed by him. So I’ve watched it again and have to admit that, after a facetious start, he becomes more sympathetic as he gets angrier. But I still think he’s a prat – and a banal prat at that – and wonder what the hell the New Statesman is playing at, hiring him as a guest editor this week.
Judge for yourself…
…and feel free to let us know what you think.
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