A wonderful, short (less than ten minutes) documentary about women in jazz, starting with the fabulous ‘International Sweethearts Of Rhythm’, who in 1940’s America, were not only an all-female big band, but also racially integrated. The interviews with (then) surviving members (the film’s about 20 years old) are tremendously uplifting and moving. The late Marian McPartland also features:
Over at That Place, Gene has noted the lack of coverage on leftist blogs and websites, of the wonderful news of the defeat of the ISIS (aka Daesh) occupiers of the Syrian border town of Kobane, at the hands of heroic Kurdish forces.
Gene mentions That Place’s own coverage (fair enough), and quite correctly gives credit to Tendance Coatesy‘s coverage, which has been exemplary. I found myself nodding along in agreement, hoping that the silence of much of the left is not symptomatic of any residual sympathy with Islamism, “blow-back” nonsense, or a lingering belief in that highly sophisticated Tariq Ali-ish political philosophy “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.”
Then it dawned on me that over here at Shiraz we’ve so far said nothing. So, for the record:
Shiraz Socialist unreservedly apologises to the heroic fighters of the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) and the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga, for our delay in celebrating your marvellous victory over the fascists and mass rapists of Daesh / ISIS in Kobane. We can only offer you our assurance that this delay is not the result of any political reservations about the justice of your struggle or the need for all principled leftists to give you unqualified support.
Your victory in Kobane is a huge physical and symbolic blow to Daesh’s ambitions.
We celebrate reports that Daesh have lost more than 1,000 fighters since it began its advance on Kobane in September 2014 in an attempt to control the border between Syria and Turkey. At one point the fascist-rapists had taken over most of the city.
Air raids by the US-led coalition undoubtedly helped the anti-fascist struggle, but the credit for this great victory must go the Kurdish forces. The role of women fighters is especially glorious and must be celebrated. As Gene notes:
“One way of countering Islamic State propaganda and recruitment in the West is the widest possible distribution of photos and videos of the female fighters who helped defeat IS– living proof that not only is IS losing, it is losing to women who will fight and die rather than submit to the forced marriage and sexual slavery which IS claims is its right.”
Death to fascism in all its forms! Victory to the Kurds! Victory to democratic, secular socialism!
Before the tragic discovery that she has a brain tumour, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, the public figurehead of the CTU’s 2012 strike against the city’s Democratic mayor Rahm Emanuel, was preparing a mayoral campaign for the 2015 election. Lewis’s national union, the American Federation of Teachers (the country’s biggest), had pledged $1 million. A Chicago Tribune poll from August 2014 put her ahead of Emanuel by 43 to 39%. Her victory, or even, perhaps, her campaign, would have been the most significant act of self-assertion by US labour in the political sphere for decades.
In a September 2014 article in Salon, Edward McClelland argues that Lewis typifies the contemporary US labour movement, which, since the 1970s, has become “feminised, professionalised, politicised and regionalised.” McClelland writes: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most unionised job category is ‘education, training and library occupations’ at 35.4 percent. That’s a field dominated by women, many with master’s degrees. (In fact, the Center for Economic and Policy Research predicts that by 2020, a majority of union members will be women.)”.
He argues that deindustrialisation, and the relocation of heavy industrial manufacturing to America’s south, “a region hostile to unionism”, has meant that the archetypal unionist of yesteryear – a white man working a “blue-collar” industrial job – is now more likely to be anti-union. The archetypal trade unionist of 2014 -15 is a graduate, a woman, probably black (unionisation rates amongst black workers are higher than those amongst whites), and in a “white-collar”, “professional” job.
McClelland also cites a political shift and realignment from the 1970s onwards; where unionised, working-class voters in America’s industrial heartland provided a base of support for Richard Nixon’s 1972 landslide victory (in which he ran what he called a “blue-collar strategy”), now membership of and support for unions is “just another blue state [Democratic] trait”.
The statistics in McClelland’s article are stark. In early 2014, in a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the United Auto Workers (UAW) lost a ballot for something akin to union recognition by 712 votes to 626. In a separate campaign amongst graduate workers in administrative jobs at New York University, UAW won the ballot 620-10. McClelland’s article is an observation extrapolated from those statistics, and not a comprehensive study. But even as an observational sketch, there are some important details missing from the picture. Read the rest of this entry »
A view from Pakistan by Pervez Hoodbhoy:
Why Does Malala Yusufzai’s Nobel Bother So Many On The Left?
Take Arundhati Roy. For one who has championed people’s causes everywhere so wonderfully well, her shallow, patronizing remarks were disappointing…
Arundhati Roy’s charm and lucidity have iconized her in the world of left-wing politics. But, asked by Laura Flanders what she made of the 2014 Nobel Prize, she appeared to be swallowing a live frog:
“Well, look, it is a difficult thing to talk about because Malala is a brave girl and I think she has even recently started speaking out against the US invasions and bombings…but she’s only a kid you know and she cannot be faulted for what she did….the great game is going on…they pick out people [for the Nobel Prize].”
For one who has championed people’s causes everywhere so wonderfully well, these shallow, patronizing remarks were disappointing.
Farzana Versey, Mumbai based left-wing author and activist, was still less generous last year. Describing Malala as “a cocooned marionette” hoisted upon the well-meaning but unwary, Versey lashed out at her for, among other things, raising the problem of child labour at her speech at the United Nations: “it did not strike her that she is now even more a victim of it, albeit in the sanitized environs of an acceptable intellectual striptease.”
But hang on a bit! This “kid” and “cocooned marionette” did not achieve world-wide admiration for opposing US-led wars or child labour or for a thousand and one other such good-and-great things. The bullet that smashed through her skull came because she opposed the Pakistani Taliban’s edict that all education for girls must end forever in the Swat valley after 15 September 2009, and her vigorous campaign for every girl child’s right to education.
It is perfectly clear why Malala has had to be damned to eternity by her left-wing critics: she has been photographed in the company of men judged to be villains: Barack Obama, Gordon Brown, Ban Ki Moon, Richard Holbrooke, and others. It is also obvious that she could not have won the Nobel peace prize—which is always an intensely political affair—but for support from the highest quarters in the western world. Consequently many on the left have easily dismissed her condemnation of drone strikes in Pakistan, as well as the $50,000 from her Nobel Prize money which she gave for rebuilding Gaza schools, as thin ploys aimed at image building.
Unsurprisingly leftist critiques of Malala’s Nobel have been eagerly seized upon by right-wingers in Pakistan, helping seal the narrative for many of my countrymen and women. For cultural and religious reasons, as much as for political ones, they have already come to loathe the West even more than arch-enemy India. In the weeks after she was shot, several students at my university told me they see Malala Yousafzai as Malala ‘Dramazai’, an ‘Illuminati Psy Op’, and a willing tool of the West who is out to badmouth Pakistan and make it appear unreasonably dangerous. Many doubted that she had been shot at all—the Taliban know how to kill.
Pakistan’s officialdom also harbours a hidden, but deep, hostility to her. Although the government officially acclaimed the Prize, a resolution to honour Malala was unsuccessfully moved last week by the opposition in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s provincial assembly. Instead the KPK assembly passed another resolution to press the US government to free the “daughter of Pakistan”, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a convicted Al-Qaida affiliate who is now serving out her 86-year sentence atFort Worth, Texas. Mainstream Urdu newspapers describe Malala as a poster girl of the West, and a Trojan horse for introducing secularism in Pakistan.
I have no expectations from the millions of my conspiracy obsessed fellow Pakistanis. But have Malala’s left-wing detractors—including those who I have long respected for their outspokenness in opposing multiple forms of oppression and imperialist wars—ever really bothered to know why she was shot?
In the following, I have translated and condensed a 9-page pamphlet entitled Aqeedon ka Tasadum explaining why Malala had to be killed. Written in Urdu and signed by the Pakistani Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, it was circulated shortly after the shooting:
Preamble: This is a war of two faiths, Islam versus kufr (unbelief). On the one side there is true education and modesty; on the other is nudity, music, dancing, and disgraceful gyrations. On the one side there is respect for the veil; on the other are those females who appear on TV and give interviews to men who are not relatives. In fact they dare to mock the Taliban and mujahideen who seek to prevent nudity, lewdness, and Westernization. So here is why this so-called Malala, a pawn of Western interests and secular forces, had to be brought to justice:
First, is Malala a child? No! She was born on 18 July 1998, which makes her 15 years and 4 months old. She had crossed puberty and shown the signs. Thus she had to be treated as an adult woman responsible for her deeds.
Second, is the killing of women allowed in Islam? Yes! After the conquest of Mecca, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) had personally ordered several women to be killed, including by stoning to death. Hazrat Ali too had declared as correct and justified the strangling of a Jewish woman who had verbally abused the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
Third, what does Pakhtun culture say? Although some media commentators claim that killing girls is against our culture, this is nonsense. If a boy and girl are even suspected of doing something together, it is common to kill both.
Fourth, was Malala guilty? Yes! This so-called innocent “child” actually wrote a diary under the false name of Gul Makai, and daily criticized us in it. She called Obama her ideal, and preferred the secular education of Lord Macaulay to Islamic education.
Fifth, was Malala unarmed? No! She was armed with the pen, a weapon sharper than the sword, with which she daily defamed Islam and Muslims. She portrayed the Taliban as beastly savages. This is why we rightly punished her.
Conclusion: By focusing on Malala this filthy (Pakistani) media shows it is prostituted to the Americans. It says no words of protest against the strip-searching and incarceration of the daughter of Islam (Dr Aafia Siddiqui). It makes a false hero out of one who deserved what she got.
A puzzle: why does such savage bestiality often find no, or only cursory, reference in today’s left-wing discourses? Boko Haram’s sex captives, ISIL’s beheadings, Taliban suicide attacks against civilians, and scores of atrocities by multiple Islamic groups should appal and disgust all those who believe in human equality, decency, and freedom. The Left is most certainly built upon these strong moral foundations, so why the near silence?
The explanation has two parts. First, a portion of the Left has a wholly negative view of western agendas, uncritically rejecting everything as self-serving and hypocritical. Second, many progressives today do not wish to leave a comfort zone where all global problems can be safely blamed on to the West. Having two baddies—America and Islamism—threatens to muddy up the waters. They would prefer to keep life simple.
But shouldn’t one be a little cleverer, more discerning? It is doubtlessly true that the pursuit by the United States of its strategic and economic interests fed and fuelled the rise of violent Islamism through its multiple wars and interventions, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US continues to be the principal protector and ally of Saudi Arabia—which has long funded jihadists across the globe. It stokes anger through its unconditional support for aggressive Israeli expansionism. In such situations it is right and proper to condemn the US and fight back.
At the same time, one must recognize that western culture and politics have changed in important ways. This is not because of the Obamas, Bushes, or Blairs but owes instead to a protracted, centuries-long struggle by the working class and activists. No longer can any western country afford to be seen as a merciless colonizer, or to freely militarily ravage and economically plunder as in past centuries. Constraints on their still callous corporate and political elites have steadily grown. Therefore western agendas and interests can sometimes be intelligently leveraged for furthering what is important for peoples everywhere: education, peace, female emancipation, freedom of thought and action, labour rights, and all that the Left holds important. Malala has played this game with the West well, giving us hope that in these bleak times there are still some among us who have their heads screwed on right.
A young Pakistani progressive, Ghausia Rashid Salam, departs from common opinion by paying her this tribute:
“We should be honoured that Malala emerged from our country, because we know better than any white man, better than any South Asian, what Pakistan is, and what life here is like. We know, better than anyone else in the world, how resilient you have to be to emerge from a life under the Taliban and not give up fighting for your rights, or the rights of others. We should be happy that the Western world can see for itself the brutal conditions we, and other parts of the world, live in, because the more fortunate parts of the world need to check their damned privilege and start making genuine efforts to bring change.”
It is surely time for one-track leftists to learn that we live in a multiple-tracked world, to recognize that there can be more than one baddie, and to resist from simplifying at the cost of accuracy. Else they do grievous wrong to all.
Pervez Hoodbhoy teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad. This article first appeared on telesur
The horrors exposed by the Jay report into child exploitation in Rotherham are so sickening, so angering, so distressing, that I’ve deliberately refrained from commenting. I’m simply not qualified to do so on an issue that seems at once so simple and yet so complex. What I am sure about is that those refuse to seriously address the racial aspect to this outrage are nearly as culpable as those who would use it to demonise Asian/ Muslim people and stir up racial hatred.
So, for now, I’ll simply recommend this piece by Samira Ahmed. I know quite a few of you will have already read this, as it was first published in yesterday’s Guardian. But it’s by far the best and most sensibly nuanced commentary on the subject I’ve yet encountered and it deserves to be as widely read as possible.
Protest against IS and the genocide of the Yazidis! Support workers, women and oppressed minorities in Iraq!
6 – 8pm, Friday 22 August, Downing Street, London
This rally is organised by the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan, UK organisation, in alliance with other Iraqi, Iranian and UK organisations (see below).
A Yazidi family on Mount Sinjar
The organisers say:
“Against the Genocide of the Yazidis
Against the Bloodthirsty Forces of IS
Against Fascism and Racism
“Support our demands:
1. Immediate steps and actions must be taken to help all those who are displaced, regardless of their ethnic or religious background. The Yezidis, in particular, are most desperately in need of such help.
2. The countries which have supported the IS financially and militarily should be condemned and held responsible.
3. The ruling parties across Iraq propagate racist and ethnocentric sentiments among the people, causing tension between Arabs and Kurds, as well as Sunni and Shiites. This is catastrophic and has brought about high levels of ethno-sectarian hatred in Iraq and Kurdistan. Pressure should be exerted on the political parties to stop this.
4. Any activities and demonstrations by IS supporters must be organised against by the trade unions, community groups and political organisations. What they do does not constitute freedom of political thought; they advocate hatred and killing. Tolerating these groups may create circumstances for other racist groups to flourish and spread hostility towards people from Muslim backgrounds.
We hope that the EU will register our concern on the matter and act against any and all forms of racist and sectarian attacks and incitement.”
Other sponsoring organisations
Worker-communist Party of Iraq UK Organisation
Worker-communist Party of Iran UK Organisation
Worker-communist Party of Iran Hekmatist UK Organisation
International Federation of Iraqi Refugees – IFIR
Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation in Britain – KMEWO
For more information please contact: 07577 781 626 or 07446 135 857 or 07894 252 708
Above: Caroline Leneghan
An extraordinary crisis has erupted at the Morning Star (de facto mouthpiece of the British Communist Party), resulting in the resignations of the editor and the company director. It stems from reporter Rory McKinnon’s questioning of the RMT leadership over allegations of domestic abuse on the part of the union’s assistant general secretary Steve Hedley (which Shiraz covered here).
McKinnon, who resigned from the Star on 25 July, has written an account of what happened to him at the Star, at the blog Another Angry Woman. This is important, not least because much of the British trade union movement (without reference to their membership) funds the Morning Star:
This is a guest post by Rory McKinnon. Content warning for domestic violence. It is published with permission of the survivor.
“The public have no right to know”: how the Morning Star threatened to sack me for reporting domestic violence allegations
My name’s Rory MacKinnon, and I’ve been a reporter for the Morning Star for three years now. It’s given me a lot of pride to see how readers and supporters believe so strongly in the paper, from donating what cash they can to hawking it in the streets on miserable Saturday afternoons. I was proud to represent a “broad paper of the left”, as my editor Richard Bagley always put it: a paper that saw feminism, LGBTQ issues, racial politics and the like as integral to its coverage of class struggle.
It’s for this reason that I thought I would have my editor’s support in following up domestic violence allegations against the Rail, Maritime and Transport union’s assistant general secretary Steve Hedley. Instead the Morning Star’s management threatened me with the sack, hauled me through a disciplinary hearing and placed me on a final written warning.
If you want to see my reasons for writing this, skip to the bottom. But I’m a reporter, and in my mind the most important thing is that you all know exactly what’s happened behind closed doors. So let’s get on with it.
Last March a former RMT assistant branch secretary, Caroline Leneghan, went public about what she described as a “violent assault” at the hands of Hedley while they had been in a relationship.
“On this occasion he kicked a pot of paint at me, threw me around by my hair and pinned me to the floor repeatedly punching me in the face.”
Leneghan said she had approached both police and the union after their break-up to seek an investigation: her RMT rep confirmed that police had suggested “a high chance of conviction” but that the six-month window for a charge of common assault had since expired.
Despite this, the union’s then-leadership had decided not to refer the allegations to its national executive for a formal investigation. It was at this point that Leneghan decided to go public (you can find Leneghan’s full statement and photographs here).
Now, I don’t pretend to have any inside knowledge, and at the time I had only just been assigned to a post in Scotland and was busy trying to get my feet in under the table up there. But I am a journalist, and when the union agreed to consider an appeal from Leneghan only to see it eventually withdrawn at her request – amid a pretty vile reaction from some elements of the left – I mentally filed it away as something to keep an eye on.
In March of this year I went as a Morning Star reporter – with the RMT’s approval – to cover its women’s conference in Glasgow. Women I knew of in the RMT were still talking about Leneghan’s case, and it made sense to me as a reporter to follow it up in the public interest, so I took advantage of a Q&A session with the union’s national organising co-ordinator Alan Pottage – a session on recruiting women organisers and combating sexism in the workplace – to ask whether he thought the lack of formal investigation into the allegations against Hedley had affected women members’ perceptions of the union. Pottage declined to comment and the session continued, but when delegates reconvened for the afternoon session the union’s equalities officer Jessica Webb and executive member Denis Connor approached my seat and forcibly ejected me from the conference. (You can find my full statement on the incident here).
The very next day the Morning Star’s editor Richard Bagley informed me that I had been suspended following allegations of gross misconduct and that any public comment I might make “could risk bringing the paper into disrepute and could have a bearing on [my] case”. (You can see the letter here and subsequent charges here.)
Six weeks later, I found myself back in London for a disciplinary hearing, with the company’s secretary Tony Briscoe bringing the charges and Bagley sitting in judgement. But as the Morning Star management’s minutes (for some reason presented as a verbatim transcript), and my own notes here show, it quickly became clear that the real nature of the accusations had nothing to do with the charge sheet and everything to do with appeasement.
From the minutes:
“RB: You have three years’ experience as a Morning Star journalist. Given the type of stories you’ve covered previously do you think the paper would have published a story on the issue you raised?”
“RB: So let’s clarify the role of the Morning Star here: internal union matters are different from inter-union matters.”
“TB: It’s debatable whether the NUJ (National Union of Journalists – Rory) code of conduct applies in a situation such as this and the fact you asked it raises a question about your approach. The question feels more like something a Daily Mail reporter would ask than someone from the Morning Star. You should have known better. This indicates a lack of journalistic etiquette and has damaged our relationship with the trade union movement.”
And from my own notes:
TB: “I would have thought the role of the Morning Star reporter was to progress the aims & goals of the paper.”
TB: “I would expect that sort of question to be asked in the Daily Mail or the Sun.”
TB: “I would say the public has no right to know about the ins-&-outs of the relationship between Leneghan & Hedley.”
Shortly afterwards I received Bagley’s written judgement. Again, you can read it for yourself here, but the thrust of the Morning Star’s editorial policy is below:
“After three years at the paper you should reasonably be expected to be familiar with the paper’s news priorities, which do not include reporting internal union rows or personal controversy. Your actions suggest a fundamental failure to grasp the Morning Star’s news focus, and by extension the role of any journalist employed by it.”
I was placed on a final written warning with twelve months’ probation, then went on to appeal (dismissed, ruling here), but that’s procedural stuff that isn’t strictly relevant.
What’s relevant, to my mind, is that readers cannot trust the Morning Star’s current leadership to report on abuse allegations and failures to formally investigate when they concern favoured figures in the trade union movement, even when those figures are elected officials. As the edition for 24 July shows, however – coincidentally the same day I had decided to give my notice – those Nasty Tories cannot expect such discretion. Feminist principles are a weapon with which to attack the right, but not an end in itself for the left.
I’ve written this because I was told that “the public has no right to know.” I think the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union’s members do have a right to know about their leaders’ decision not to hold a formal investigation into reports of violence against a female member, and I think the Morning Star’s readers and supporters also have a right to know that the paper’s senior staff have an explicit policy of suppressing such allegations.
It is quite possible that the Morning Star’s management committee – a panel which includes the National Assembly of Women’s Anita Wright – have not been told anything about this. If so, I hope that they will investigate and reassert the paper’s editorial independence. I am not trying to wreck the Morning Star here. I am insisting that it commits to its feminist principles and treats readers with the respect they deserve.
UPDATE – This post was drafted on Saturday 26 July, the day after informing the Morning Star’s management of my intent to quit. On Monday 28, the paper announced company secretary Tony Briscoe’s retirement and editor Richard Bagley’s departure “for family reasons”. Bagley would continue to work for the paper, the report added.
ETA: The survivor has clarified some of the sequence of events. Caroline says:
“There’s a mistake here, the executive refused me to appeal, after that the only route was the agm, which is the quashed one, as i realised all my documents, statements etc had been distributed to hundreds of people without my knowledge”
ETA 2 (19.14 08/08/14): The MS have issued a statement denying everything. To borrow their phrasing, it is interesting to note they haven’t started issuing libel threats…
This article first appeared at the Telegraph‘s website. It makes a refershing change from the waffle and evasion that’s been published in the Graun on the same subject. I do not have Sarah’s permission for republishing this, but it’s so good I thought it simply deserved the widest possible audience, and I suspect most Shiraz readers don’t read the Telegraph in either print or electronic format:
Trojan Horse plot: we must not excuse bigots on the grounds that they are Muslim
Bigotry is bigotry, whether it’s religious or not.
By Sarah Khan, director of Inspire
As a Muslim, I object to hardliners and apologists who try to excuse bigotry on the grounds that it’s “Islamic”
One of the most shocking findings, from both Birmingham City Council’s report and from the Government’s own investigation into the Trojan Horse affair, was the incredulous hate peddling promoted to young children by fundamentalist Muslims who attempted to infiltrate a number of schools. Children had been told not to listen to Christians because they were “all liars”; and how they were “lucky to be Muslims and not ignorant like Christians and Jews.” Schools put up posters warning children that if they didn’t pray they would “go to hell” and girls were taught that women who refused to have sex with their husbands would be “punished” by angels “from dusk to dawn”. One of the ringleaders of the Trojan Horse plot told an undercover reporter that “white women have the least amount of morals”, white children were “lazy” and that British people have “colonial blood.”
Let’s be clear. These bigoted views are exactly that – bigoted. As a Muslim I object to those hardliners who aggressively suggest such views are Islamic. They are not. Yet this hate peddling was done in the name of Islam. I have seen over the years how sexist, homophobic and intolerant Muslims deliberately manipulate my faith to justify sexism, homophobia and intolerance to other faith communities. They hide behind the excuse of “Islam”, and argue they are within their religious rights to hold such bigoted views – and British society too often acts as if these are the natural rights of all Muslims. Such an attitude was seen, frustratingly, in the Muslim Council of Britain’s statement in response to the Trojan Horse findings, but also from Birmingham City Council, who did little to stop such practices as there had been a culture within the council which was more concerned about potential allegations of “Islamophobia”. This paranoia incredibly took precedent over the welfare and well-being of children in our schools.
How did it come to this? Part of the reason is the lack of a clear understanding within society of what actually constitutes anti-Muslim prejudice which is then manipulated fully by Muslim hardliners who know this only too well and who gleefully run circles around liberals. But another reason is also because of the confusing messages that are emitted which treat Islam and all Muslims as if they are a homogenous block, and the refusal by Muslims in authority to call out bigotry when they see it being committed by Muslims themselves. Despite their attempts of speaking out in favour of Islam, they refuse to separate the bigoted views of some Muslims from Islam itself.
Take the Muslim Council of Britain. In their statement they complained that Mr Clarke was “conflating conservative Muslim practices to a supposed ideology and agenda to ‘Islamise’ secular schools.”
For the record, I’d like to know: what exactly does the MCB define as conservative Muslim practice? Does the MCB believe homophobia, sexism, intolerance and the “inferiority” of other faiths are conservative Muslim practices? The religious conservative Muslims I speak to tell me they are offended that this could ever be justified as such. Yet predictably, Muslim representative bodies like the MCB at best sound wishy-washy, and at worst continue to defend and justify such bigotry under the guise of “conservative Muslim practice.”
Kathy Stobart and her band in the early 1950s
Jazz can be proud of its anti-racist traditions and of how, from the early twentieth century, black and white musicians defied racism in order to work together to make great music. Jazz played a major role in the US civil rights movement and – long before the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson for the 1946 season – helped convince white America that black people were at least their equals, and had an awful lot to contribute to the American Way Of Life, if only given the chance.
Jazz’s record on sexism and women’s rights is less honourable. Until quite recently, women were scarcely tolerated in jazz, and even then only as fans, hangers-on and singers. The few female instrumentalists that there were in the 1930s, 40s and 50s on the US scene tended to be treated with condescension or (as with pianist Mary Lou Williams, whose talent could not be denied), as novelties if not downright freaks.
The situation for British women jazz musicians was just as bad until very recently, which makes it only right and proper that we now remember the tenor sax player Kathy Stobart, who died on 6 July aged 89. Kathy was a pioneer, having started professionally in the 1940s when she ran her own band and worked for top bandleaders like Vic Lewis and Ted Heath. In 1957 she caused a minor sensation when she stepped in for Jimmy Skidmore (who was ill) with the Humphrey Lyttelton Band and recorded a highly-regarded album, Kath Meets Humph.
Humph held Kathy in high regard, describing her sax playing as having “a huge booming sound, imbued with total originality and a commanding presence.” Kathy joined Humph’s band as a regular member between 1969 and 1978, and then re-joined for 12 years from 1992. She set a precedent: after Kathy left, Humph hired two other female sax players, Karen Sharpe and Jo Fooks, both of whom have spoken of Kathy as a major inspiration and role model.
Kathy’s second husband, the trumpeter Bert Courtley, died in 1969, leaving Kathy a single parent, and she took up music teaching to supplement her income. By all accounts she was a “natural” and in 2000 she tutored Judi Dench in the rudiments of sax playing for her role in Alan Plater’s TV play The Last of the Blonde Bombshells.
Kathy, like a lot of the best female jazz players, would frequently be described by critics and fans, as playing “like a man”. The description didn’t please Kathy, who once commented: “It’s supposed to be the ultimate compliment, but I wouldn’t apply it to myself. I’ve got a good pair of lungs on me and I’ve got well matured emotions. I play like me.”
Guardian obit here
In Australia, there is an event called the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, with some high-calibre contributors, like Salman Rushdie and Steven Pinker. One of the speakers they invited was one Uthman Badar, of Hizb ut-Tahrir. The title of the speech was Honour Killings are Morally Justified.
Badar says he did not choose the topic himself, but accepted it upon the urgings of the board. The festival’s co-curator Simon Longstaff said he had nominated the topic for six years in a row, because the point of the festival is to push boundaries ”to the point where you become extremely uncomfortable”.
Yet again, misogyny, racism and violence against minoritised women is considered edgy, rather than banal and conservative.
What’s more edgy and dangerous and uncomfortable than suggesting the world is a better place because a Tunisian father burned his 13 year old daughter alive? What’s more edgy and dangerous than saying certain women and girls don’t deserve to live?
For Aya, it was ‘dangerous’ to walk home from school with one of her classmates, and no doubt somewhat more than ‘extremely uncomfortable’ to die of burns a few days later.
It is a wonder that Longstaff didn’t realise that other speakers had balked the topic for six years in a row not because it was “uncomfortable”, but because it was morally repugnant: hate-speech as clickbait, where the names and faces of the victims are erased for the sake of a headline.
Enter Uthman Badar, the only man vainglorious enough to make the attempt. There are, of course, many experts in ‘honour’-based violence, people who have dedicated their careers to exploring its dynamics, conducting research, developing protection measures, supporting victims. Badar is not one of them. According to his Academia.edu page, he’s an economist (although apparently, he is not actually a student of the university that he claims to attend).
Even Badar doesn’t seem to have wanted to defend the murders of girls and women and young men: his preamble suggests he’s not even going to try and justify ‘honour’ killing. Let’s look at what he was going to say:
“Overwhelmingly, those who condemn honour killing are based in the liberal democracies of the West.”
This is untrue:
We in the West know about ‘honour’ killings only because they were brought to our attention by local activists: it was Asma Jahangir‘s decision to exceed her brief as Special Rapporteur into Extrajudicial Executions that brought the subject up; it was Rana Husseini‘s activism against the laws of Jordan that told us how embedded such crimes were in their societies, and it was Fadime Sahindal‘s prediction of her own death that raised the topic as something which occurred in the West.
Perhaps it is true that many of those who commit honour killings may not be based in the liberal democracies of the West but that doesn’t mean that they are accepted within their societies. Of all the Muslim countries surveyed by Pew, only in two did more respondents approve than disapprove of ‘honour’ crimes. Overwhelmingly, the scholars and activists who work against ‘honour’-based violence are people working in their own countries and communities, both within and outside the ‘West’. To ignore this fact demonstrates a strangely Eurocentric world view.
Aya’s father is taken as an exemplar of Tunisia: Aya herself is erased, the 300 Tunisian protesters are erased, Tunisian women’s rights activists are erased, the fact that ‘honour’ killings are vanishingly rare in Tunisia is erased. And this is all done in order that Badar can synechodically present ‘honour’ killers as the true representatives of ‘Eastern’ culture. This smacks of orientalism in itself: the presentation of a diverse culture and people as homogeneously violent, and obsessed with ‘honour’, against reams of evidence to the contrary.
And so, the next sentence:
“The accuser and moral judge is the secular (white) Westerner and the accused is the oriental other: the powerful condemn the powerless.”
The person at the actual nadir of powerlessness, the victim, is totally absent from Badar’s analysis. The actual situation — where the accuser and moral judge is the enculturated (brown) Easterner and the accused is the feminine other: where the powerful not only condemn, but slaughter the powerless – is erased. The victim is erased, and the murderer is granted victimhood in her stead.
“By taking a particular cultural view of honour, some killings are condemned, while others are celebrated: in turn, the act becomes a symbol of everything which is wrong with the other culture.”
Let’s ignore this strange position where we are led to believe that some killings are celebrated, which seems to be an attempt at whataboutery and decontextualisation too vague for me to parse. On the other hand, his point that the discourse of ‘honour’ is used to demonise the ‘other’ culture is unavoidably true. However, there are many more people who are far better qualified to argue this than Badar. Aisha Gill and Avtar Brah have done this excellently, and are feminists to boot.
Katherine Pratt Ewing, to give another example, has written an entire book on the topic, and a speech by her on how ‘honour’ crimes are used to stigmatise minorities would be informative, and moreover, informed by research. That is not what Longstaff wanted though: it wouldn’t have have got him in the headlines.
After the cancellation of the speech due to public outcry, Badar produced a petulant statement which attributes the outcry to Islamaphobia, as did Longstaff: ‘Have not the ‘Islamophobes’ already won the day when a person dare not speak on controversial matters because he is Muslim?’, he tweeted, rather pompously.
Let’s consider this charge for a second. Almost all Muslim organisations take pains to distance themselves from ‘honour’ killings. Almost all serious scholars address the issues of culture with caution, and with due attention to the worrying levels of xenophobia in the West. Training materials in use by professionals to help them respond to ‘honour’-related violence in the family stress the importance of not making cultural assumptions.
Just as a thought experiment, consider this: if you really hated Muslims and Islam, what would be the best way of overturning all this good work done in balancing the rights to life and freedom of young people (many, but not all, of whom are Muslim) with respect for the culture of their families? How about promoting a speech called ‘Honour Killings are Morally Justified’, and getting a speaker whose only qualification is being a Muslim to present it? Would that work? I think it would.
H/T: KB Player