Apologies to all (and especially Irish comrades) for failing to mark St Pat’s Day.
To make up for this, here’s Ben Webster (and his performance is beautiful):
Ben Webster (tenor sax), Kenny Drew (piano), Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (bass), Alex Riel (drums). Denmark, 1965.
The author is a leading member of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, an organisation that has not always been clear-cut in its analysis of Islamism, so this article is of great significance. It first appeared in International Viewpoint:
After the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher Jewish supermarket: thinking through the new and rethinking the old
By Pierre Rousset
We should start with a worrying observation.
Heads of state understood the importance of the events of January. Representatives of “democracies” and dictatorships alike, they came to Paris and locked arms together to show solidarity “at the highest levels”. A spectacular gesture if ever there was one!
On the other hand, a significant segment of the radical Left thought it was just business as usual. To be sure, some organizations published declarations of solidarity (and deserve genuine thanks for this) as well as articles grappling with the significance of the events. But many others felt it was enough to score debating points, correct as they may have been (against cross-party national unity, for example); or had as their first concern the need to distance themselves from the victims (declaring “Je ne suis pas Charlie” [“I am not Charlie”] in flagrant disregard for the message intended by those saying “Je suis Charlie” [“I am Charlie”]); or, far worse, felt the urgent task was to assassinate morally those who had just been assassinated physically.
Soon after the events, I co-wrote an article with François Sabado in which we specifically sought to understand what was so unique about the event and its implications in relation to our tasks.  No doubt, much more needs to be said on that score, but I’d like the text that follows (and which deals in large measure with the state of radical-Left opinion) to be read in conjunction with the previous one to avoid pointless repetition.
The unique character of the event
I’ll be referring in particular to an interview with Gilbert Achcar, with which I agree on many points of analysis, but which also contains a number of surprising blind spots. The first of these has to do with the unique character of the event. Gilbert seeks to trivialize the whole affair. “The reaction [to the attacks] has been what anybody would expect. […] These were quite similar reactions from appalled and frightened societies [the USA after 911 and France now] — and, of course, the crimes were appalling indeed. In both cases, the ruling class took advantage of the shock […] There is nothing much original about all this. Instead, what is rather original is the way the discussion evolved later on.” 
Gilbert is quite right to point out [elsewhere in the same interview] that it is extremely exaggerated to place the Charlie Hebdo attack and the September 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center Twin Towers on the same footing. And yet millions of people spontaneously took to the streets following the French events, unlike what happened following previous no less atrocious attacks, such as the murder of children in front of a Jewish school in Toulouse.
Do Everything to Help this Comrade.
STATEMENT BY UK KURDISH ORGANISATIONS ABOUT SHILAN OZCELIK’S IMPRISONMENT.
The Kurdish community and supporters of the Kurdish struggle are incensed at the arrest and imprisonment of 18 year old Shilan (Silhan) Ozcelik, who is accused of wanting to join the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS).
The UK government in its steadfastness to appease the Turkish state, who are continuing to support ISIS, and withhold support from the Kurdish armed movement, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) has made clear whose side the government are on. The recent killing of the heroic Konstandinos Erik Scurfield (Kemal) in the battle against ISIS in Rojava (Northern Syria), has garnered a very positive approach from the British media and public. The UK government has been afraid of this support for the Kurdish struggle because for a 100 years the UK state has been one of the initiators and supporters of Kurdish oppression in the Middle East. This is why they have delayed and not supported the repatriation of Konstandinos Erik Scurfield and criminalized the struggle he has sacrificed his life for.
The Kurdistan Worker’s Party, which is on the terror list in the UK, EU and USA was added to this list in 2002 during a 5 year unilateral ceasefire, at the behest of Turkey. The PKK have never posed a threat to the UK and threatened this country. This listing is evidently political and to do with the economic and political ties between the Turkish and British states. Using this listing the UK government has been criminalising the Kurds for at least 13 years, yet not one Kurdish individual has been charged and convicted of being a PKK member, despite many raids, arrests and intimidations.
The case of Shilan Ozcelik is the most recent chapter of this story and the Kurdish community are now concerned that the UK government will, in its attempt to seem impartial to ‘certain’ sections of British society, once again criminalise the community who have been the biggest supporters of the international fight against ISIS terror and fascism. Shilan has on many occasions stated that she wanted to travel to the region to assist with humanitarian work. It seems that the UK government are blocking and trying to prevent any support from going to Rojava and Sinjar, thus strengthening ISIS’ resolve and the unofficial embargo on Rojava and the resistance there.
To call for the immediate release of Shilan Ozcelik and to call for an end to the criminalisation of the Kurdish community [we held] a picket outside Holloway Prison [last night], where Shilan Ozcelik is being held.
Roj Women’s Association, Kurdish Youth Assembly, Kurdish People’s Assembly, CAMPACC, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign, Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), MAFDAD (Kurdish Lawyers Association), Kurdish Community Centre, Roj Women’s Assembly, Highbury East Councillor Aysegul Erdogan
SIGN EMERGENCY PETITION TO THE UK HOME SECRETARY THERESA MAY TO FREE SHILAN OZCELIK IMMEDIATELY!
* More info over at Tendance Coatesy
By Anne Field (Workers Liberty)
On Saturday 6 March a special conference of the Scottish Labour Party voted by 69% to 31% for a constitutional amendment declaring it to be a party which “works for the patriotic interest of the people of Scotland.”
The bulk of the opposing votes came from Unite and Unison, plus a scattering of local parties. According to unconfirmed reports, the GMB voted for the amendment, and the CWU and ASLEF abstained.
Winning a third of the conference to a vote against the amendment was no small achievement.
Local parties and affiliated organisations had been subject to the emotional blackmail of the need to be seen backing the leadership in the run-up to the general election.
Eight of the nine speakers called from the floor to speak on the proposed amendment spoke in favour of it.
To create the right “atmosphere” at the conference, a thousand people were in attendance, but only a small minority were actually voting delegates.
The constitutional amendment also contained all manner of references to “the Scottish people” and things Scottish and had been presented by the leadership as the way to undercut support for the SNP.
Anyone on the left — apart from those who have pitched their tent in the pro-independence camp —will share that aim of defeating the SNP, but this will not help.
Modelled on Blair’s re-writing of the party’s Clause Four, which had committed the party to the “common ownership” of industry, the amendment was meant to be newly-elected leader Jim Murphy’s very own “Clause Four moment”.
As Murphy put it last December: “It’s the biggest change in Scottish Labour’s history… I want to rewrite Clause Four of Scottish Labour to bring us closer to the centre of Scottish life.”
Blair’s rewriting of the Clause Four was a genuine political statement — it was part of his mission to destroy the Labour Party as the political wing of the workers’ movement. His actions dominated news headlines for months.
Murphy was not even amending Clause Four! He was amending Clause Two of the Scottish Labour constitution, nothing more than a sentence stuck in between Clause One and Clause Three.
Murphy’s announcement created no more than a ripple of media coverage.
Most media coverage mentioned the constitutional amendment only as a footnote to its coverage of the conference. (That includes the party’s own website reports of the conference.) The remaining media coverage (including LabourList) did not mention it at all.
Murphy’s re-writing was a transparent exercise in squalid opportunism.
Despite losing the referendum, the SNP is on course to wipe out Labour in the general election. So, runs Murphy’s logic, the party needs to be more Scottish than the SNP. Yet only a few months earlier Murphy’s Chief of Staff John McTernan had warned that “you can’t out-nat the nats”.
(McTernan himself is hardly best placed to “out-nat the nats”. In 2002 he e-mailed a Labour MSP about to visit Sweden: “I think you’ll really like it. It’s the country Scotland would be if it wasn’t narrow, Presbyterian, racist, etc., etc.)
The new “Clause Four” is irrelevant to reversing Labour’s fortunes.
Insofar as anyone takes it seriously the commitment to “the patriotic interest of the people of Scotland” will be positively damaging.
The SNP lost last September’s referendum. But its great achievement in the referendum campaign, apart from thoroughly poisoning political debate in Scotland, was to push class and social issues to the sidelines of political argument, and replace them with “Scotland’s national interests”.
Instead of poverty and inequality being identified as a product of class and capitalist oppression, they were presented as the product of “Westminster rule” and a distant “Westminster establishment”.
Murphy seeks to challenge the SNP on its own territory: which party is best placed and most suited to representing Scotland’s national and patriotic interests. Given the nature of the SNP as a narrow Scottish-nationalist party, the answer to that question will always be: the SNP.
Apart from reinforcing the nationalist element in Scottish political discourse (and, consequently, the SNP’s electoral prospects), Murphy’s attempt to put patriotism centre-stage is also a challenge to the rationale for Scottish Labour’s existence.
As the one anti-amendment speaker called at last Saturday’s conference put it:
“Patriotism is an essential tool in presenting class interest — the ruling class interest — as the interest of all of us.
“The primary purpose of the Scottish Labour Party should be precisely the opposite of that. It should be exposing the class nature of Scottish society. It should be attacking austerity. It should be increasing redistribution of wealth. It should be promoting equality.
“On the basis of this kind of programme we should be fighting tooth and nail to halt the nationalist offensive.
“So let’s stop talking about about patriotic interest and start talking about the class interest instead.”
NIPSA Hails Support for Public Sector Workers’ Strike
Brian Campfield, General Secretary of NIPSA, Northern Ireland’s largest public sector trade union has welcomed the massive support from public service workers and the community for today’s strike action and protests.
Commenting after today’s march and rally in Belfast he stated:-
“The trade union movement is delighted with the massive response by workers to the call for strike action. The thousands of workers who participated in today’s strike and protests across Northern Ireland have sent a very clear message to the Northern Ireland political parties and leaders that they will not accept the decimation of our public services and jobs.
The next step should be that all the political parties with MPs elected to Westminster at the May general election will declare that they will refuse to support any new government at Westminster which does not call an immediate halt to these unprecedented and damaging cuts to public services. They may well have a critical role in the event of a hung parliament and they must ensure that they use whatever power they have to force a reversal of the UK Government’s unnecessary austerity programme. This is the least they can do in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.”
Commenting further on the role of the NI Executive Mr Campfield stated:-
“The financial elements of the Stormont House Agreement must be revisited. The £700m borrowing for redundancies should be invested in public services and plans to reduce corporation tax must be abandoned.
The UK Government must be told that Northern Ireland cannot afford these cuts and that the NI Executive must do their utmost to force the Westminster Government to provide an adequate public expenditure settlement for Northern Ireland.”
End of Statement
Below: an extract from Terry Pratchett’s Richard Dimbleby lecture, Shaking Hands With Death, February 2010:
When I was a young boy, playing on the floor of my grandmother’s front room, I glanced up at the television and saw Death, talking to a knight. I didn’t know much about death at that point. It was the thing that happened to budgerigars and hamsters. But it was Death, with a scythe and an amiable manner. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but I had just watched a clip from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, wherein the knight engages in protracted dialogue, and of course the famous chess game, with the Grim Reaper who, it seemed to me, did not seem so terribly grim.
The image has remained with me ever since and Death as a character appeared in the first of my Discworld novels. He has evolved in the series to be one of its most popular characters; implacable, because that is his job, he appears to have some sneaking regard and compassion for a race of creatures which are to him as ephemeral as mayflies, but which nevertheless spend their brief lives making rules for the universe and counting the stars.
I have no clear recollection of the death of my grandparents, but my paternal grandfather died in the ambulance on the way to hospital after just having cooked and eaten his own dinner at the age of 96. He had felt very odd, got a neighbour to ring for the doctor and stepped tidily into the ambulance and out of the world. A good death if ever there was one. Except that, according to my father, he did complain to the ambulance men that he hadn’t had time to finish his pudding. I am not at all sure about the truth of this, because my father had a finely tuned sense of humour that he was good enough to bequeath to me, presumably to make up for the weak bladder, short stature and male pattern baldness which regrettably came with the package.
My father’s own death was more protracted. He had a year’s warning. It was pancreatic cancer. Technology kept him alive, at home and in a state of reasonable comfort and cheerfulness, for that year, during which we had those conversations that you have with a dying parent. Perhaps it is when you truly get to know them, when you realise that it is now you marching towards the sound of the guns and you are ready to listen to the advice and reminiscences that life was too crowded for up to that point. He unloaded all the anecdotes that I had heard before, about his time in India during the war, and came up with a few more that I had never heard. Then, at one point, he suddenly looked up and said, “I can feel the sun of India on my face”, and his face did light up rather magically, brighter and happier than I had seen it at any time in the previous year, and if there had been any justice or even narrative sensibility in the universe, he would have died there and then, shading his eyes from the sun of Karachi.
He did not. Read the rest of this entry »
The suspension of Cameron’s friend Jeremy Clarkson and the subsequent question-mark over the future of Top Gear (but, I fear money talks, and Clarkson and his show will return), at least gives me an excuse to show you this clip of Stewart Lee (in 2010 I’d guess) on the subject of Top Gear and its presenters. I think Lee’s very, very, funny, but not everyone agrees.
It lasts 14 minutes, and all I’d advise is if you decide to watch it, please watch all the way to the end:
I wrote to Amnesty expressing concern about their association with Cage and got the following reply:-
“Amnesty no longer considers it appropriate to share a public platform with Cage and will not engage in coalitions of which Cage is a member. Recent comments made by Cage representatives have been completely unacceptable, at odds with human rights principles and serve to undermine the work of NGOs, including Amnesty International.”
We had engaged with Cage together with several other organisations on the specific issue of UK complicity in torture abroad, on which they had particular expertise. At the time that Gita Sahgal left Amnesty International, we commissioned an independent external review into our work with Cage and Moazzam Begg which concluded that it was reasonable for Amnesty to campaign with Cage and Moazzam Begg in his capacity as a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay. Gita’s view was that it was inappropriate for Amnesty International to share a platform with individuals and organisations whose religious or political views were inconsistent with the full range of rights and women’s rights in particular.
Amnesty International has never questioned the integrity of this view or the sincerity with which Gita held it. However, it is not uncommon for NGOs to enter into coalitions with other organisations or groups on one specific issue despite their disagreement on others.
Based on an extensive review of comments made by Cage Prisoners (as it was then known) then available to the public, we concluded that limited cooperation with Cage on the narrow issue of accountability for UK complicity in torture abroad was appropriate, given their consistent and credible messaging on this issue. Comments made by Cage recently have clearly changed that assessment and have led to our decision to terminate such relations. But this does not alter the fact the decision in 2010 to continue this limited work was taken for good reasons and after extensive reflection.
Further to that, the refusal of a Cage spokesperson to condemn violence such as FGM and stoning – themselves examples of torture and degrading treatment that we are campaigning for an end to – is of huge concern to Amnesty and has made any future platform sharing with Cage impossible.”
Amnesty have now made a statement on their website.
“Amnesty no longer considers it appropriate to share a public platform with Cage and will not engage in coalitions of which Cage is a member.
“Recent comments made by Cage representatives have been completely unacceptable, at odds with human rights principles and serve to undermine the work of NGOs, including Amnesty International.”
Many have pointed out that CAGE hasn’t changed since 2010, and that Amnesty is being disingenuous in suddenly finding them an unfit partner because of unwelcome publicity. A comment below:-
The reply by Amnesty’s Kate Allen contains a contradiction in terms. While she is affirming that it isn’t uncommon for NGOs to enter into coalitions with other organisations or groups on one specific issue despite their disagreement on others, nevertheless now Amnesty is severing ties with CAGE over their views on violence and torture including FGM and stoning. Which one of the two Amnesty holds true – that their partners’ views on ‘other issues’ such as violence does not matter or that do matter? If they do matter now, how can Amnesty explain those views didn’t matter back in 2010 and they considered it perfectly normal to share a platform with CAGE. They either have to admit a gross incompetence and issue an apology to Gita Sahgal (though this is going to be difficult because Gita Sahgal warned them about CAGE’s views) or admit they acted in bad faith and hoped nobody will notice – in this case too, they at least have to issue an apology to Gita Sahgal.
CEMB Forum said in the thread below this post:-
An improvement. However, Amnesty need to do the following:
(1) Put this out as a public statement. Explaining their errors in the past and why they have realised they shouldn’t associate with CAGE again, including a specific expression of moral disgust and distancing from them on these issues. [They have sort of done this – though their words for CAGE “completely unacceptable” and “of huge concern” do not equal “disgust”.]
(2) An acknowledgement of Meredith Tax’s central point in her book ‘The Double Bind’ – that they need to maintain an objective critical distance from Salafi Jihadi apologists / groomers and Islamist reactionaries. [They haven’t mentioned giving Islamist groups a body swerve.]
3) A full public apology to Gita Sahgal. She was right. They were wrong. She is vindicated completely. Amnesty acknowledges the central points she made in her critique of them. Now apologise. [I bet they never do that.]
Over at Liberal Conspiracy Sunny Hundal makes a C minus apology. If you have the energy you can look back at Pickled Politics archives to see the many posts jeering at Gita Sahgal and boosting Moazzam Begg.
5 years ago, when Amnesty UK’s work with Mozazzam Begg was questioned by former employee Gita Sahgal, I came to Amnesty’s defence (though I actually wrote the issue was more complicated than many pretended it was). Recent events show that Gita called it right and I called it wrong, as did Amnesty. I’m happy to admit that, and I regret some of the intemperate language I used.
At the time I was defending Amnesty (not Cage) against people (excluding Gita) who wanted to undermine the organisation for other reasons, i.e. its focus on Guantanamo Bay and Israeli war crimes. I continue to think Amnesty is a great organisation but it should have refused to work with Cage then. I made lots of calls which turned out to be right (unlike many of Amnesty’s critics) but in this case I was wrong. Gita Sahgal’s instincts have been vindicated.
That last sentence does induce some nausea. When you apologise for being badly wrong, don’t point out how often you were right compared to the less enlightened. Also, it wasn’t Gita’s instincts that were right, it was her knowledge and experience and principles – which should have weighed a good deal heavier in the scales than Begg’s glamour as a Guantanamo detainee. But there you are – half a loaf and all that.
Cover Story: “How Islamic is Islamic State?”
Mehdi Hasan argues that the Quran cannot be blamed for violent political extremism
A simple rendition of the fallacy:
- Person A: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
- Person B: “But my uncle Angus likes sugar with his porridge.”
- Person A: “Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
Mehdi’s article is here … so you can judge for yourself