Dave Osland wrote:
The website of Socialist Resistance – a organisation of which I was once a member – is currently running two articles on the transphobia debate [JD adds: Dave wrote this before SR took down the article by ‘Author A’]
Author A, a radical feminist, sets out her position. Author B, a trans woman, subjects it to critique.
The first writer does not stoop to Julie Burchill-style cheap shot invective aimed at ‘chicks with dicks’ but simply sets out her stall in entirely reasonable terms.
This is what most people would consider a rational exchange of opinion, a process whereby both camps can potentially gain, if only by better understanding their opponent’s case.
But for its pains, SR is now subject to an online petition, in which dozens of activists – including some big names in the bubble politics of the far left – have signed up in protest against ‘the hosting of transphobes’.
In its small way, this affair encapsulates much of the mindset that relegates revolutionary socialism to the margins of the margins.
It is as if to say: “We have the correct line, comrades; no other line can even be permitted the ephemeral existence of a posting on a small readership website.”
This is an attempt at petty cyber-Stalinist bullying on the part of people who believe that they are in the business of politics to work towards a fundamentally more democratic society.
If they cannot handle debate now, at this level, than how would they handle it in the event that they actually exercised some degree of real influence in society?
By all means take on Bugs Brennan and her ilk. But freedom of speech is as vital on the radical left as it is within society as a whole.
As far as I know, this is something of first. But now the precedent has been set, I wonder where this madness is going to stop.
Here is the ‘offending’ article, with an introduction, written by the author (Victoria Smith, aka ‘Author A’) since the piece was taken down; it comes from Victoria’s blog glosswatch – a feminist blog. We reproduce it here at Shiraz not because we necessarily agree with it, but because we think it is a serious contribution to a serious debate, and should not have been suppressed:
I originally wrote this piece for Socialist Resistance – in response to an idea that came from them, not me – but asked to have it withdrawn in light of this editorial announcement. I think it’s important for women’s work to be represented fairly and I don’t consent to my work being presented in contexts which don’t reflect the actual commission. The insistence that women’s voices in particular – particularly when women are describing their lives and needs – require “trigger warnings” is patriarchal to the core. When people are offended by women speaking or writing, it’s rarely women who are the problem.
In this particular instance I think Socialist Resistance need to be honest about their editorial policies and their political principles. There is a word for people for whom discussions of female bodies, female labour and male violence cause “offence and distress.” That word is not “trans”, “queer”, “marginalised” or “oppressed,” but “misogynist” (it’s been around for quite some time). If that is a publication’s desired readership, fine, but it is frankly bizarre for it to then use the term “socialist” when any analysis of the means of production expressly excludes the exploitation of female bodies and the experiences of female people as a labour class.
Moreover, if an editor believes it is contentious to claim that the exploitation of women is something which benefits a more powerful group (as opposed to something based on a random, free-floating “phobia”); if he or she thinks it is triggering to suggest male violence should be named; if he or she is unconcerned about the age-old exclusion of female bodies from understandings of what human bodies are, then that editor should say so. It’s not okay to make glib statements about not “supporting the exclusion of transwomen from women’s spaces” when that is not what is being debated. If you’re going to slap a trigger warning on someone’s writing and make dog-whistle references to phobias, you need to give precise reasons why. And if your “socialism” is actually “redistribution amongst male people while female people carry on cleaning up everyone’s shit,” you need to be clear about this. Because selling your publication on the back of moral principles you don’t have simply isn’t fair.
I am wondering if an alternative title for this piece should be “why are some feminists so mean?” After all, this is the assumption made by many upon hearing that when it comes to trans inclusion, many feminists still want to talk about difference. “But trans women are women!” we are told, as though this will make everything alright. But it doesn’t. The impression is that we are cruel. Surely what is at stake matters a great deal to trans women but very little to us? Why can’t we just loosen up and let everyone join the “being oppressed as a woman” party on the same terms? Shouldn’t the excluding be left to the men?
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that, at least not if feminism is to mean anything as a political theory which analyses how and why women are oppressed, with a view to dismantling the structures which dehumanise, objectify and exploit. This is no more an abstract discussion for feminists than it is for trans people. It is not a matter of discomfort with particular words. It’s about real, flesh-and-blood suffering. If we cannot talk about how patriarchy arises, how it functions and who benefits from it, then we cannot help ourselves, let alone each other. We might as well go home.
In a 2014 piece for the Guardian, the trans journalist Fred McConnell describes gender as “one’s innate sense of self.” This is not a definition that many feminists would use. To us, gender is a hierarchical system aimed at enforcing women’s subservience. It is neither natural nor innate. As the philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards writes, “much of what is believed about women stems from what is wanted of women.” If you decide that woman = innately predisposed to meet the needs of men (and dress it up in fancy wording which suggests womanhood is actually to do with being pretty, nurturing, communicative etc.), you have a ready-made justification for abuses which have endured for millennia and are going on to this day. That is what gender means to us.
I am conscious the feminist definition of gender sounds a little depressing compared to the trans one. Maybe so, but it is a description of what is. Forced marriage, unpaid wifework, reproductive coercion, sexual slavery, educational exclusion … all of these things continue to be justified by the insistence that women are “naturally” subservient, caring, decorative etc. Moreover, the women to whom these things happen do not have the opportunity to identify out of their oppression because this oppression remains material in basis. Saying “I’m not a woman – my innate sense of self tells me I’m not THAT!” does not work (I write this as a pregnant woman and believe me, no amount of insisting “I’m a pregnant PERSON!” grants me an exemption from laws which were written on the assumption that women, as a reproductive class, should not have full bodily autonomy at all times in the same way that men do).
So what is the solution? Feminists propose that we abolish gender and accept that both male and female people are human, free to express themselves however they choose regardless of their sex. Trans activists propose that we abolish sex difference (as if one could) and accept that whether one is male or female depends upon how one identifies, using gender as a guide. Quite how the latter option deals with the material exploitation of sexed bodies under patriarchy – beyond making it unmentionable – isn’t very clear. Nor does it tell us how we might confront male violence (over 90% of all violent crime is committed by male people, regardless of how they identify). Are we therefore to assume that a predisposition to violence is merely a part of someone’s innate sense of self? And is it now up to perpetrators to say whether their violence really counts as “male violence,” dependent on how “male” they feel? Indeed, under the rules of trans politics, can we identify any forms of material oppression and dominance at all?
When feminists point out that trans women are not biologically female, we are not, as some would have it, behaving like “knuckle-dragging bigots.” We’re saying our bodies exist and matter, too. This isn’t a minor point. The idea that male bodies are the default bodies is patriarchy 101. Eve is constructed from Adam’s rib; Freud clocks our lack of penis and comments drily that “a hole is a hole”; modern medical research is still biased towards using male bodies. Denying sex difference by making male bodies the only “real” bodies is not some modern stroke of genius; it is conservative to the core. Moreover, it is directly contrary to the feminist objective of ensuring that biology is not destiny.
Many people find this hard to understand, thinking that to associate being female with having a female reproductive system is akin to “reducing women to their genitalia.” It’s a non-argument that’s rather akin to saying anti-capitalists “reduce people to their earnings” or anti-racism campaigners are “obsessed with skin colour.” If we don’t talk about biology – and hence never demand the structural changes which ensure the world is built to suit the needs of all bodies – then for female people, biology always will be destiny. For instance, it’s highly unlikely that company bosses ever sat down and decided to actively discriminate against people who look like they might have the potential to get pregnant; they just built the rules on the assumption that the default employee is someone who definitely can’t. This then leads to enormous inequalities, forcing women into lower-paid, part-time work or excluding them from employment altogether (while allowing male people to continue to benefit from the disproportionate share of unpaid caring work undertaken by female people; unfortunately males who see “woman” as an identity rarely seem to identify with the floor scrubbing and arse-wiping aspect of the whole experience).
In all this it’s worth asking who really gains the most from trans politics in its current anti-feminist guise. Female people don’t and if we’re honest, neither do most gender non-conforming males. Whereas feminism seeks to dismantle male dominance, trans politics reinforces traditional masculinity by insisting that any quality that is considered insufficiently manly is shoved into the “woman/not man/other” box. Not only does this offer no challenge whatsoever to the global epidemic of male violence, but it ensures that women can continue to be blamed for it (If women were only more accommodating, men wouldn’t have to beat anyone up, as said by every single misogynist since the beginning of time). Moreover, this is entirely in keeping with a feminist analysis of gender as a hierarchy. When self-styled cis men order feminists to accept that “trans women are women,” what they’re really saying is “accept that my dominance is natural” (any admission that male people might freely identify with so-called feminine qualities without having to declare themselves female would be far too unsettling; it might show that patriarchy is a house built on sand after all).
A recent poster campaign asking feminists to be “more inclusive” showed a trans person trying to decide which toilets to use. On the door of the ladies’ were the words “get yelled at”; on the men’s, “get beaten up.” That’s patriarchy for you; men learn violence, the most women can do is seek to raise our voices. The trans solution? Demand entry into the “get yelled at” space, even if this also means granting entry to potential beaters as well as yellers. Accept male violence, but not female dissent, as a fact of life. The feminist solution? The opposite: no to male violence, yes to raising our voices. Confront the system that enables the beaters. Do so even if it means you get yelled at and called a TERF and told to die on a daily basis. Do it because you know male violence is wrong, that no one deserves to be beaten and that all people should be free to express themselves how they wish, regardless of sex.
I know which option I’d choose. Other people can make their own choices, but let’s be honest: this is not about identity and inclusion. It’s about power. Think about who and what you’re propping up.
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
Comrade Coatesy posted this, and I endorse it with all. my heart:
Olympe would have been proud of you: beloved comrades.
“Je n’ai qu’un moment pour les faire, mais ce moment fixera l’attention de la postérité la plus reculée.“
I have but a moment to spare, but this moment will hold the attention of the most distant posterity.
Olympe de Gouges. The original Declaration of the Rights of Women. 1791.
By Zîlan Diyar, a Kurdish guerrilla fighter:
This piece originally appeared in Yeni Özgür Politika in Turkish with the title ‘The time has come.’
The whole world is talking about us, Kurdish women. It has become a common phenomenon to come across news about women fighters in magazines, papers, and news outlets. Televisions, news sites, and social media are filled with words of praise. They take photos of these women’s determined, hopeful, and radiant glances. To them, our rooted tradition is a reality that they only recently started to know. They are impressed with everything. The women’s laughter, naturalness, long braids, and the details of their young lives feel like hands extending to those struggling in the waters of despair. There are even some, who are so inspired by the clothes that the women are wearing, that they want to start a new fashion trend!
They are amazed by these women, who fight against the men that want to paint the colours of the Middle East black, and wonder where they get their courage from, how they can laugh so sincerely. And I wonder about them. I am surprised at how they noticed us so late, at how they never knew about us. I wonder how they were so late to hear the voices of the many valiant women who expanded the borders of courage, belief, patience, hope, and beauty. I do not want to complain too much. Perhaps our eras just did not match. I just have a few words to say to those who only now begin to notice us, that’s all.
Now one half of us is missing. If there is no past or future in your environment, one feels like a sound, an upsurge that gets lost in the black holes of the universe. The excitement and beauty of today can only be measured by those who were able to carry it to this day and their ability to carry it further to the future. In the cry of Zîlan (Zeynep Kinaci), who detonated herself in 1996 is the breath of Besê, who threw herself off the cliffs in the Dersîm uprising in the 1930s, saying “You cannot catch me alive” and that of Berîtan, who surrendered neither her body, nor her weapon to the enemy, when she threw herself off the mountain cliffs in 1992. It is the reason why YPJ fighter Arîn Mirkan made a mountain wind blow through a desert town, when she detonated herself rather than surrendering to ISIS, in order to cover her retreating comrades in Kobanê this October.
In the hearts of the Yezidi women, who take up arms against the men with the black flag is the homesickness of Binevs Agal, a Yezidi woman, who joined the guerilla from Germany in the 1980s and crossed continents to return to her country. In the words of Ayse Efendi, the co-president of the Kobanê people’s assembly, “I will die in my homeland,” is hidden the odin of the rebellious Zarife, who fought in the Dersim uprising. In the smile of the YPJ fighter, who poses with her child while carrying a rifle, is the hope of Meryem Colak, a psychologist, who chose to fight in the mountains and who often shared with us her longing for the daughter she left behind. Deniz Firat, a Firat News journalist, who was killed by ISIS in Makhmur in August, learned to search for truth from Gurbetelli Ersöz, a journalist and guerrilla fighter who died in clashes in 1997. Sema Yüce (Serhildan), who set herself on fire in protest in a Turkish prison in 1992, whispered the secrets of the fire to Leyla Wali Hussein (Viyan Soran), who self-immolated in 2006 to draw attention to the situation of Abdullah Öcalan.
Those who today wonder about why the “Girl with the Red Scarf”, a Turkish girl, who was disillusioned from the state after the Gezi-Park protests, would join the mountains, would have known the answer if they had known Ekin Ceren Dogruak (Amara), a Turkish revolutionary woman in the PKK whose grave stone says “The girl of the sea who fell in love with the mountains” and Hüsne Akgül (Mizgin), a Turkish guerrilla fighter of the PKK, who died in 1995. Those surprised at the US Americans, Canadians joining the YPG are those who do not know Andrea Wolf, a German internationalist in the PKK, who was murdered in 1998 and whose bones were thrown into a mass grave, and whose memorial could not be tolerated by the state.
Our calendar did not run parallel to the world’s calendar. These women’s gaze was focused on the depths of the far distance, their steps were fast. In order to bring the future closer, they were so impatient that they did not leave a single bridge behind. These two reasons kept us apart from the realities of the world. That is why the world did now know the women in the mountains, tens, then hundreds and later thousands of them, in the same time frame. Now it’s time to combine calendars, to set clocks. It is time to tell these women’s life stories that swung between dream and reality, their happy moments that sound like fairy tales, the ways in which loss has proven to be our most egregious teacher in our quest for truth. Now is the perfect time to entrust what I was able to carry from the past to this day. In order to join the world’s calendar, I will carry our past to the present. May my past be your present.
I wake up on a cold spring morning of Cirav in 1997. I throw the nylon, moistured from the frosty night, off me and I see a face, different from those of the swarthy warriors, in front of me. As if the sun had only mildly radiated on this face. As if her hands, her smile described elegance and nobility. I am happy that a warrior who is newer than me had arrived, that I had become a little old. I later find out that I had a five-year guerrilla in front of me. At the time, I knew only her code name; Zinarîn… If it wasn’t for the white strings in her hair or the way sorrow sometimes carried her smile away, you would not understand that she had been a guerrilla for five years. I am unaware of the pains she experienced, the sacrifices she made in her quest for truth. I am going crazy, being curious about what she is writing into her notebook, as she takes refuge under the shadow of a tree. The feelings that she felt in the short life that I shared with her, I later read in Zinarîn’s diary after her martyrdom.
I am in autumn 1997. A day on which the weary feet of autumn try to drag us towards winter. A day in which sorrow does not conquer Haftanin, but our hearts. I learn about Zinarîn’s martyrdom months later. I’m still vulnerable to the pain of loss. As I wander around with unchained rage, Meryem Colak reads on my face how my soul boils with pain. As I stopped talking to anyone upon Zinarîn’s death, she asks “Are you mad at us?” and answers the question herself “Don’t be angry at us, be angry at the enemy”. From that day on, my immunity towards loss increases. A few months later, I learn that Meryem Colak, when heading towards Metina in order to exit the operation field with a group of women on her side, was killed in a tank ambush. I learn from the witnesses of the moment that she spent her last energy to speak not to send greetings to her daughter, but to entrust her companions with her weapon, cartridge belt and codes.
It is 1999. I am in the Zagros mountains that did not permit Alexander’s army passage, but where the guerrilla managed to open paths. We are halfway through a long journey that would last a month. With me is the 22-year old Sorxwîn (Özgür Kaya). Our Sorxwîn, who allows the mountain conditions to rule over her body, but who will not allow her child’s heart to submit to the laws of war. A commander, a companion, a woman, and a child. Each one of her identities adds a different beauty to her. The best part of the one-month long arduous journey is her cheering us on to keep marching. Of course it was this child called Sorxwîn that invented children’s games to give us strength. Mischievously laughing, she says “This is nothing. I can carry a BKC with 400 bullets on my back, so I will climb this hill in four hours without a break”.
These women could not catch up with our time because they rushed towards the fire like butterflies. But they have been living on for three generations. Three generations grow up with their stories, carry their names, listen to the burning songs dedicated to them. They pick up the riffles that these women left behind and take off to Shengal, Kobanê, Botan, Serhat. They leave to bring light to the world that the men with the black flag want to darken. And their names are Zinarîn, Berîtan, Zîlan, Meryem, Sorxwîn, Arjîn, Amara, Viyan, Sara…
I have no long words to express my deep feelings for our beloved comrades.
I simply want to say: love and utter solidarity.
By Juan Cole (reblogged from Informed Comment):
I have argued on many occasions that the language of patriotism and appeal to the Founding Fathers and the constitution must not be allowed to be appropriated by the political right wing in contemporary America, since for the most part right wing principles (privileging religion, exaltation of ‘whiteness’ over universal humanity, and preference for property rights over human rights) are diametrically opposed to the Enlightenment and Deist values of most of the framers of the Unites States.
We will likely hear these false appeals to an imaginary history a great deal with the release of the Senate report on CIA torture. It seems to me self-evident that most of the members of the Constitutional Convention would have voted to release the report and also would have been completely appalled at its contents.
The Bill of Rights of the US Constitution is full of prohibitions on torture, as part of a general 18th century Enlightenment turn against the practice. The French Encyclopedia and its authors had agitated in this direction.
Two types of torture were common during the lifetimes of the Founding Fathers. In France, the judiciary typically had arrestees tortured to make them confess their crime. This way of proceeding rather tilted the scales in the direction of conviction, but against justice. Pre-trial torture was abolished in France in 1780. But torture was still used after the conviction of the accused to make him identify his accomplices.
Thomas Jefferson excitedly wrote back to John Jay from Paris in 1788:
“On the 8th, a bed of justice was held at Versailles, wherein were enregistered the six ordinances which had been passed in Council, on the 1st of May, and which I now send you. . . . By these ordinances, 1, the criminal law is reformed . . . by substitution of an oath, instead of torture on the question préalable , which is used after condemnation, to make the prisoner discover his accomplices; (the torture abolished in 1780, was on the question préparatoire, previous to judgment, in order to make the prisoner accuse himself;) by allowing counsel to the prisoner for this defence; obligating the judges to specify in their judgments the offence for which he is condemned; and respiting execution a month, except in the case of sedition. This reformation is unquestionably good and within the ordinary legislative powers of the crown. That it should remain to be made at this day, proves that the monarch is the last person in his kingdom, who yields to the progress of philanthropy and civilization.”
Jefferson did not approve of torture of either sort.
The torture deployed by the US government in the Bush-Cheney era resembles that used in what the French called the “question préalable.” They were being asked to reveal accomplices and any further plots possibly being planned by those accomplices. The French crown would have argued before 1788 that for reasons of public security it was desirable to make the convicted criminal reveal his associates in crime, just as Bush-Cheney argued that the al-Qaeda murderers must be tortured into giving up confederates. But Jefferson was unpersuaded by such an argument. In fact, he felt that the king had gone on making it long past the time when rational persons were persuaded by it.
Bush-Cheney, in fact, look much more like pre-Enlightentment absolute monarchs in their theory of government. Louis XIV may not have said “I am the state,” but his prerogatives were vast, including arbitrary imprisonment and torture. Bush-Cheney, our very own sun kings, connived at creating a class of human beings to whom they could do as they pleased.
When the 5th amendment says of the accused person “nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself” the word “compelled” is referring to the previous practice of judicial torture of the accused. Accused persons who “take the fifth” are thus exercising a right not to be tortured by the government into confessing to something they may or may not have done.
Likewise, the 8th Amendment, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” is intended to forbid post-sentencing torture.
The 8th Amendment was pushed for by Patrick Henry and George Mason precisely because they were afraid that the English move away from torture might be reversed by a Federal government that ruled in the manner of continental governments.
Patrick Henry wrote,
“What has distinguished our ancestors?–That they would not admit of tortures, or cruel and barbarous punishment. But Congress may introduce the practice of the civil law, in preference to that of the common law. They may introduce the practice of France, Spain, and Germany.”
It was objected in the debate over the Bill of Rights that it could be ignored. George Mason thought that was a stupid reason not to enact it:
“Mr. Nicholas: . . . But the gentleman says that, by this Constitution, they have power to make laws to define crimes and prescribe punishments; and that, consequently, we are not free from torture. . . . If we had no security against torture but our declaration of rights, we might be tortured to-morrow; for it has been repeatedly infringed and disregarded.
Mr. George Mason replied that the worthy gentleman was mistaken in his assertion that the bill of rights did not prohibit torture; for that one clause expressly provided that no man can give evidence against himself; and that the worthy gentleman must know that, in those countries where torture is used, evidence was extorted from the criminal himself. Another clause of the bill of rights provided that no cruel and unusual punishments shall be inflicted; therefore, torture was included in the prohibition.”
It was the insistence of Founding Fathers such as George Mason and Patrick Henry that resulted in the Bill of Rights being passed to constrain the otherwise absolute power of the Federal government. And one of their primary concerns was to abolish torture.
The 5th and the 8th amendments thus together forbid torture on the “question préparatoire” pre-trial confession under duress) and the question préalable (post-conviction torture).
That the Founding Fathers were against torture is not in question.
Fascists (that is what they are) who support torture will cavil. Is waterboarding torture? Is threatening to sodomize a man with a broomstick torture? Is menacing a prisoner with a pistol torture?
Patrick Henry’s discourse makes all this clear. He was concerned about the government doing anything to detract from the dignity of the English commoner, who had defied the Norman yoke and gained the right not to be coerced through pain into relinquishing liberties.
Fascists will argue that the Constitution does not apply to captured foreign prisoners of war, or that the prisoners were not even P.O.W.s, having been captured out of uniform.
But focusing on the category of the prisoner is contrary to the spirit of the founding fathers. Their question was, ‘what are the prerogatives of the state?’ And their answer was that the state does not have the prerogative to torture. It may not torture anyone, even a convicted murderer.
The framers of the Geneva Convention (to which the US is signatory) were, moreover, determined that all prisoners fall under some provision of international law. René Värk argues:
“the commentary to Article 45 (3) asserts that ‘a person of enemy nationality who is not entitled to prisoner-of-war status is, in principle, a civilian protected by the Fourth Convention, so that there are no gaps in protection’.*32 But, at the same time, it also observes that things are not always so straightforward in armed conflicts; for example, adversaries can have the same nationality, which renders the application of the Fourth Convention impossible, and there can arise numerous difficulties regarding the application of that convention. Thus, as the Fourth Convention is a safety net to persons who do not qualify for protection under the other three Geneva Conventions, Article 45 (3) serves yet again as a safety net for those who do not benefit from more favourable treatment in accordance with the Fourth Convention.”
Those who wish to create a category of persons who may be treated by the government with impunity are behaving as fascists like Franco did in the 1930s, who also typically created classes of persons to whom legal guarantees did not apply.
But if our discussion focuses on the Founding Fathers, it isn’t even necessary to look so closely at the Geneva Conventions.
Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The phrase “all men” means all persons of any nationality.
We know what the Founding Fathers believed. They believed in universal rights. And they believed in basic principles of human dignity. Above all, they did not think the government had the prerogative of behaving as it pleased. It doesn’t have the prerogative to torture.
Let me make it clear: I’m against banning the SWP under any circumstances, and anywhere,and so are all comrades I’ve discussed this with. But the following discussion, on Comrade Coatesy’s blog, puts another point of view:
Up to their Old Tricks.
This is an important statement which should be taken with the next Blog Post (from Phil, a Very Public Sociologist and Howie’s Corner).
Bans, the SWP and the struggle to defend feminism on campus.
27th of November.
International Socialist Network.
We oppose a moral panic over free speech in student unions: they are member organisations not the state. However, we think we need the highest and most rigorous standards around free speech. Free speech cannot be absolute; it has to be negotiated by our community. We have a duty to provide a secure environment for all. We must have consistent positions on where the limits are, and be very clear and open in the reasons for these limits. We don’t think the no-platform policy against the SWP is being applied consistently. A consistent approach could ban most mainstream political parties and the Catholic Church from student unions on the same grounds used for the SWP’s ban. A better approach to the SWP and SWSS in student unions is not to shut down the society, nor to ban them. We should support and fight for unions to have decent membership disciplinary policies for misogynistic behaviour. If any SWP or SWSS member in a student union is behaving in a misogynistic way then they should be told to change their behaviour by the union. Failing that, they must be disciplined as a member of the student union, as any normal member would be for misogynistic behaviour.
Many comrades in what remains of SWP can still be debated with. However, the moments of internal opposition have passed. Opposition activists have left; many into rs21 and the IS Network. Bans and no-platform policies will probably further stifle honest discussion in the SWP, and may ultimately be counter-productive as the SWP would use the attempts to ban it to try to regain legitimacy by rallying people around it in a fight for free speech.
SWP Bullies London Black Revolutionaries (from All that is solid.)
27th of November.
As you might expect, hearing a bandwagon trundling along in the distance, the SWP tried to get a piece of last night’s LBR-arranged 5,000 strong ‘FromLondon2Ferguson’ protest outside the American embassy. According to this LBR statement below, the SWP didn’t take kindly to something being organised without their “assistance”. It has been lightly edited.
We would like to clarify a recently alarming statement on behalf of Stand Up To Racism posted to us by Dennis Fernado and Sabby Dhalu.
From the hours of 25/11/14 3:00pm – 26/11/13 1:00am. LBR Organisers received a bombardment of calls from SUTR organisers.
We would like to refute some accusations being made.
At 1am of the 26th of November. SUTR approached us with the possibility of some of their Non-Socialist Workers Party members to speak as speakers of both events. We made the democratic decision to of course allow the families of those killed in police custody to speak at the event, as some have been arranged too already. We would like to convey respect and solidarity to all speakers of both events.
Our organisation received a plethora of threats from Weyman Bennett over the phone, ranging from the threat to dismantle and “go to war” our organisation if we continued to “ignore the leaders of the movement” and secondly, if we ever organise events within Anti-Racism, that we must be obliged to speak to SUTR/SWP.
What strikes me about the statement is the entitlement of Bennett and his acolytes. Remember, the SWP is an organisation that has suffered the worst crisis in its 60 year history and recently appealed for unity among leftists. What this episode demonstrates is this toxic tub of toy town Trots have learned nothing from their rape allegation cover up, nothing from the revulsion they inspire in the wider left, and nothing about how to repair their organisation. Their attempt to bully London Black Revolutionaries demonstrates why they should be avoided at all costs and never be allowed to pimp off campaigns and movements not of their making.
The story comes via Howie,
The outcry over the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black youth in Ferguson has focused a lot of attention on racism and justice in the USA. Unsurprisingly the protests has attracted coverage in the media and the attention of political activists on the far-left who have organised a vigil outside the US embassy today (26th November).
As usual the Socialist Worker Party has tried “muscling in” on the demo which has led to a fallout with the London Black Revolutionaries, an organisation I have no previous knowledge of.
LBR have published a lengthy statement.
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The left social democrat sociologist Phil Burton-Cartledge of All That Is Solid wrote the following piece and posted it on Sunday. It’s since been republished at the broadly neo-Con Harry’s Place and the Bennite Left Futures. I thought I’d ensure it’s a record by putting it up here as well. Just goes to show that Ed Miliband has defenders (albeit some highly critical) in all sorts of unlikely places: or more to the point, that serious people across the leftist spectrum understand the need for a Labour government and despise what the nameless Blairite plotters are up to:
What #webackEd Means
Tens of thousands of people pouring out onto that there Twitter showing support for Ed Miliband? What has the world come to? Stranger things have happened, just not that often.
And so it came to pass that for the best part of 24 hours, #webackEd trended on Twitter. It still is at the time of writing. Starting before last night’s round of hyped-up difficulties by @CharlieWoof81 and @jon_swindon, as hashtags go it can be described as an unqualified success. It even managed to resist blandishments and hijackings by trolls and the like.
Of course, trending topics are here today, gone in 30 seconds time. They often mean very little. They (mostly) denote an activity, like, ugh, watching Question Time or Strictly; are questions tweeted in to a celebrity Q&A; or just pick up phrases lots of people are throwing into their tweets. Like ‘Happy Christmas’. But not all trends are equal. Tweeters frequently use them to make a point, as per the case here. Tweets of this type are qualitatively different: they reflect a movement of opinion among a large group of people with a computer or mobile device to hand. Can anything then be gleaned from the many tens of thousands of tweets backing Ed Miliband?
In marked contrast the rabid Tory tabloids … excellent commentary and historical context from Jon Danzig:
Home Secretary Theresa May (and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling -JD), with support of Prime Minister David Cameron, wants the UK to scrap the Human Rights Act and leave the European Convention on Human Rights.
Instead, they want a new UK-only ‘Bill of Rights’ giving less human rights to certain humans (mostly foreign ones).
Many (but not all) Conservatives, currently in a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, don’t much like the Human Rights Act, and many (but not all) don’t like the European Union either. The two are connected, as a commitment to Human Rights is a condition of EU membership.
The Conservative party, if it wins the next General Election in May 2015, has pledged to scrap the Human Rights Act and the UK’s binding obligation to the European Convention on Human Rights.
It was British war leader Winston Churchill who in 1948 advocated a European ‘Charter of Human Rights’ in direct response to the abject horrors of the Nazi and Soviet regimes and the Second World War. British lawyers drafted what was later to become the European Convention. The UK was one of the first countries to sign up to the Convention, and leaving it would end 60 years of being legally bound by this first international treaty on Human Rights.
Read the rest here.
From Howies’ Corner:
Cross-post from Why Evolution Is True
Sameera Salih Ali al-Nuaimy
I meant to post this yesterday, but there is so little time. . . Still, it must be recorded so that the full horrors of ISIS’s behavior can be known. Both Thursday’s New York Times and Reliefweb (summarizing a condemnation by a UN envoy) report that an Iraqi lawyer, Sameera Salih Ali al-Nuaimy, was taken from her home in Iraq by members of ISIS, tortured, and then executed by firing squad. Her crime? Apostasy.
From the NYT:
Ms. Nuaimy had posted comments on her Facebook page condemning the “barbaric” bombing and destroying of mosques and shrines in Mosul, a northern Iraqi city, by the Islamic State, the militant group also known as ISIS or ISIL. She was convicted of apostasy by a “so-called court,” Mr. Zeid said, adding that her family had been barred from giving her a funeral.
The killing follows the execution of a number of Iraqi women in areas under Islamic State control documented by United Nations monitors, including two candidates contesting Iraq’s general election in Nineveh Province, who were killed in July. A third female candidate was abducted by gunmen in eastern Mosul and has not been heard from since.
And, like Pol Pot and Mao before them, ISIS targets the group most likely to make trouble: educated and literate people, especially women, whose acts of criticizing Islamic society are especially odious to devout Muslims:
United Nations monitors in Iraq have received numerous reports of executions of women by Islamic State gunmen, some after perfunctory trials, the organization said. “Educated, professional women seem to be particularly at risk,” it added.
These killings, together with abductions and the enslavement of women and children, illustrate the “utterly poisonous nature” of the extremist group, Mr. Zeid said, drawing attention to the plight of hundreds of women and girls of the Yazidi religious minority and other ethnic and religious groups sold into slavery, raped or forced into marriage after the group overran large areas of northern Iraq.
The thought that someone would be tortured for five days before being shot boggles my mind. It’s a return to medieval barbarism. And Karen Armstrong tells us this has nothing to do with religion: it’s due to enforced secularism (what??). Now tell me how execution for “apostasy” could exist without religion. And every country where that’s a crime is Islamic. From Wikipedia:
In 2011, 20 countries across the globe prohibited its citizens from apostasy; in these countries, it is a criminal offense to abandon one’s faith to become atheist, or convert to another religion. All 20 of these countries were majority Islamic nations, of which 11 were in the Middle East.
Here’s the map, with the penalties in each of the countries. Can one seriously make a case that in every one of those countries the laws against apostasy stem from colonialism, or from religion that, coopted by a malicious state, was once benign and is now odious? After all, both the Qur’an and the hadith specify punishment for leaving the faith, and in thehadith that punishment is death. Punishment for apostasy was part of the faith from the beginning.
We already know that ISIS is poisonous, and somehow—I don’t know how—it must be destroyed. Although other Muslims have condemned the group as “un-Islamic,” it’s a charge I find ludicrous, for this killing, rape, and abduction of women is merely an extension of the more moderate Islamic doctrine of marginalizing and oppressing women. Though you can face charges of “Islamophobia” for saying so, we must incessantly condemn the “moderate” Muslim practice of not allowing women to achieve their full potential. A large proportion of these “moderates” may not engage in beheadings, rapes, and tortures, but they still treat half of their population as second-class citizens—if you can even call them “citizens.” “Breeder cattle” is more like it.
From Informed Comment:
By Lars Berger
The decision by President Obama to launch missile and air strikes against Islamic State (IS) and the al-Qaeda affiliate “Khorasan” in Syria draws the United States ever closer to yet another prolonged military confrontation in the region.
But there’s a difference this time: the participation of a coalition of Arab states, variously offering diplomatic, intelligence and military support. So far, the partner states have been named as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Jordan.
From Washington’s perspective, the importance of Arab participation is obvious: a synchronised display of high-level multinational cooperation is clearly meant to head off the usual criticism of the often unilateral nature of US foreign policies.
This is of particular importance for President Obama, who has invested considerable capital over the years in distancing himself from the Bush administration’s war in Iraq.
As he put it in his brief statement announcing the strikes: “The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone.”
The White House clearly hopes that the participation of Arab partners will undermine that radical Islamist narrative of “the West versus Islam”, and instead reframe the conflict as another chapter in the decades-old struggle between the vast moderate Muslim majority and a tiny minority of radicals.
But aside from these explicit American goals, Obama’s new Arab partners have interests of their own.
Regional rivals: Saudi and Qatar
Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia can hope to shift attention away from the criticism for their attitude to Islamist extremism. Over the years, they have been charged not only with supporting radical Islamists in Syria, but also with allowing their religious elites to propagate a version of Islam that is open to easy manipulation at the hands of radical jihadist recruiters.
Both countries will also hope that weakening the radical Islamists of IS will help moderate elements of the Syrian opposition regain the initiative against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Some among the elites of Riyadh and Doha might even be hoping Washington will realise the threat of IS will never be extinguished while Bashar al-Assad’s regime remains in place – and that Obama will see the job is finished.
Finally, Saudi Arabia in particular clearly has to be concerned with preventing the success of an organisation which aims to establish the perfect “Islamic state”.
IS’s claim to ultimate leadership of the world’s Muslim community as put forward by its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, is a direct challenge to the Saudi claim for global religious leadership based on King Abdullah’s role as “custodian of the two holy places” in Mecca and Medina.
Saudi authorities are fully aware that al-Baghdadi’s radical Islamist fringe project has attracted followers from Saudi Arabia, with recent estimates putting the number at up to one thousand.
As Nawaf Obaid and Saud al-Sarhan have pointed out, Saudi Arabia is the ultimate target for any “serious” radical Islamist organisation, whether IS now or al-Qaeda in years past.
Al-Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula (which consists not just of Yemeni Islamists, but also Saudi Islamists), driven out by Saudi counterterrorism measures over the last decade, is now beginning to mutter words of approval and support toward IS, and Riyadh will be deeply concerned about the spectre of being engulfed in an arc of Islamist instability to its south and north. Read the rest of this entry »
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